Ohio-born white tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano (1952)
studied music in Boston and moved to New York in 1980.
He refined his style while playing with Paul Motian (from 1981) and John Scofield (from 1989).
His relationship to free jazz was ambivalent. Lovano basically bridged
bebop, hard-bop, fusion jazz and free jazz as if he wanted to transform
John Coltrane into a mainstream jazz musician.
His first album, Tones Shapes and Colors (november 1985), featured a
quartet with pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Mel Lewis,
and it was mostly the pianist's album (Werner composed Chess Mates,
Compensation, Nocturne and Ballad for Trane, versus
Lovano's In the Jazz Community).
After another album for sax-piano quartet, Solid Steps (october 1986), a fabulous quintet with Werner, trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Paul Motian recorded Village Rhythms (june 1988), almost entirely composed by Lovano. The short pieces, from Village Rhythms to Spirit of the Night, struck a balance between impressionism and abstraction while exuding humility.
Lovano assembled a "wind ensemble" (Lovano on tenor sax, soprano sax and alto clarinet, trumpeter Tim Hagans, trombonist Gary Valente, two guitarists, bass and drums) that included Motian and Bill Frisell, to accompany improvising vocalist Judi Silvano (Lovano's wife) on the live Worlds (march 1989), featuring extended pieces (Tafabalewa Square, Worlds, Round Dance) that were in the tradition while introducing a personal jazz language.
More conventional were Landmarks (august 1990), for a quintet with
John Abercrombie on guitar, Kenny Werner on piano, Marc Johnson on bass and
Bill Stewart on drums, and Sounds of Joy (january 1991), for a trio
with Anthony Cox on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums (particularly the nine-minute
Despite too many covers, From the Soul (december 1991) was the best of
the early albums, thanks to soulful accompaniment by
pianist Michel Petrucciani, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Ed Blackwell,
and to at least one Lovano gem, Evolution.
Universal Language (june 1992) marked the return of Judi Silvano's wordless soprano singing, "backed" by a piano-sax-trumpet sextet with Hagans, Werner, Charlie Haden or Steve Swallow on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.
Lovano played soprano and alto saxophpones, flute, alto clarinet and even some percussion. The vocals were just one of the instruments, and each piece
sounded like a tribute to a different jazz style, with some
(Sculpture, The Dawn of Time, Chelsea Rendez-Vous)
being more adventurous than others, but none being avantgarde by any stretch
of the imagination.
Tenor Legacy (june 1993) was a collaboration with another tenor saxophonist, Joshua Redman, and a four-piece rhythm section (pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Christian McBride, percussionist Don Alias and drummer Lewis Nash) whose longest numbers were covers.
Quartets at the Village Vanguard (january 1995) for two different quartets was a mixed blessing. The piano-less quartet with trumpeter Tom Harrel was a bit adventurous in Lovano's Song And Dance and Fort Worth, while the quartet with Miller, McBride and Nash was as predictable as mainstream jazz musicians can be when they perform standards.
A further step backwards was Rush Hour (june 1994), a pointless collection of covers arranged for big band by Gunther Schuller (plus Schuller's own Rush Hour On 23rd Street and Headin' Out Movin' In, the two stand-out tracks).
Lovano's commercial sell-out continued with Celebrating Sinatra (1997), a collection of Sinatra classics arranged by Manny Albam for string quartet, woodwind quintet, voice and rhythm section.
The duets with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba on Flying Colors (february 1997) were embarrassing.
Unexpectedly, Lovano redeemed himself on Trio Fascination (september 1997), a trio with drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Dave Holland (and Lovano, as usual, on both tenor and alto sax, plus alto clarinet).
Both the compositions
Days of Yore,
and the playing were top-notch.
Friendly Fire (december 1998), in a quintet with saxophonist Greg Osby and pianist Jason Moran, had many covers but also Lovano's Idris and Alexander The Great, and it reenacted the double saxophone concept.
But Lovano just couldn't resist the call of mainstream pop-jazz muzak.
A tentet arranged by Willie "Face" Smith ripped through the standards of 52nd Street Themes (april 2000), the only Lovano composition being the impressive triple tenor-saxophone workout Charlie Chan.
Flights of Fancy - Trio Fascination 2 (june 2000) employed several different
kinds of trios. Needless to say, the most adventurous formats were reserved
for the shortest pieces, while Flights of Fancy was performed by the
traditional sax-bass-drums trio.
Lovano recorded more easy-listening junk on Viva Caruso (october 2001),
The live On This Day (september 2002) for his nonet featured his one
free-jazz workout, On This Day Just Like Any Other, amid the usual
I'm All For You (june 2003) contained his ballad I'm All For You and,
yes, lots of mediocre covers for tenor-piano quartet.
The same kind of quartet was wasted on the covers of Joyous Encounter (september 2004).
Symphonica (Blue Note, 2008) was yet another tribute album.
Bird Songs is devoted to Charlie Parker.
Saxophone Summit, a sextet with
Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax) Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor
saxes), Phil Markowitz (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart
Gathering Of Spirits (january 2004), with
Michael Brecker, Seraphic Light (october 2007),
Visitation (february 2011).
Few people have so stubbornly staged a life-long revival of hard-bop
when they had the talent to play something else.
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