Joe Lovano will be at Ronnie Scott’s on 6 and 7 November with his quartet. Saxophonist Joshua Heaton, a final year student at the Royal Welsh College, is a devotee and looks forward to the gigs. He writes:
Joe Lovano has been one of my favourite saxophonists and chief inspirations since I was first introduced to his playing. A drummer friend showed me the take of You And the Night and the Music from Paul Motian’s On Broadway (Vol. 2) and I instantly loved the dramatic, dark energy on that recording; Lovano’s super-expressive, raw sound, and incredible feel from the whole band (Motian and Lovano joined here by Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell) make for formidable interplay and genuinely exciting music. The On Broadway collection went straight on my Christmas list, and I started to check out this icon of modern jazz.
The second album I discovered was Bird Songs, a collection of strange arrangements of classic bebop tunes, played by the ‘Us Five’ group, featuring two drummers, Francisco Mela and Otis Brown, who will be joining Lovano at Ronnie’s on the 6th and 7th. I was particularly interested by the arrangement of the popular up tune Donna Lee on this album, as it taught me to appreciate the unexpected, that tunes can speak to different listeners in different ways, and that every musician can draw their own unique spirit from a tune. Lovano plays it not as a burning gun show, but as a tender ballad, reworking the harmony of the tune with the help of James Weidman and Esperanza Spalding on piano and bass.
Clearly Lovano takes influence from the bebop tradition. You can hear him taking Parker’s phrases and placing them in his own context amongst the emphatic gestural runs and falls (fills?), and the syncopated, rhythmic language which typify his playing. Other influences include John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and his father, tenor player Tony ‘Big T’ Lovano, who Joe is often heard proudly calling his mentor.
While listening to the landmark From The Soul album recently, I was reminded of Dewey Redman by some of Lovano’s more open, free improvisation, but perhaps that’s because Ed Blackwell is on drums on the album. His clear and fearless ideas on the kit complement Lovano’s gushing phrases well. With Michel Petrucciani’s life-affirming genius and Dave Holland‘s magic, all heard on a wide variety of music (standards, not-so-standards, originals), you can understand why this album is considered one of the finest of Lovano’s long career.
For it has been a long career – and a rich one. Through very open, free work with the Paul Motian Trio, to the beautiful duo with Hank Jones, and way back to the Mel Lewis big band when he first moved to New York City in the late 1970s, Lovano has made great success in both very small and very large ensembles. He finds the middle ground under his own name, however, on the Nonet record 52nd Street Themes, which features a number of the Mel Lewis band and some familiar repertoire.
Joe Lovano has recorded in his time something for every jazz fan. He is buried in the tradition and yet fearless enough (and has a sound and musical identity strong enough) to plow down barriers and head in more unusual, uncomfortable directions.
For your sleepy Sunday or your 3am ponderings, I highly recommend:
1. I’m All For You, a Lovano ballads album with Hank Jones, Paul Motian and George Mraz;
2. Time and Time Again, by the Paul Motian Trio – simple melodies played brilliantly;
For your slightly erratic Thursday morning listening, I strongly suggest:
1. Flights of Fancy: Trio Fascination Edition 2 – featuring many different line-ups including lovely playing by Kenny Werner on piano and Toots Thielemans on the harmonica, of course.
2. Paul Motian’s Sound of Love – Some of my favourite Lovano playing on record.
I am delighted that as I go into my final year at college I will have the pleasure of hearing Joe Lovano in a live setting. There’ll be much to learn from this master of the saxophone and wizard of self-expression, and although the musicians in the rhythm section aren’t currently well-known in the UK, based on Lovano’s history of incredible line-ups, I predict impressive playing from Lawrence Fields on piano (he has played with Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Bill Stewart, Jason Palmer, Christian Scott) and Peter Slavov on bass (George Garzone, Quincy Jones, and replaces Esperanza on the latest ‘Us Five’ album Cross Culture).
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