back stage — music notes
A JOE LOVANO REVIEW
Joe Lovano by Ken VERMES
Jazz is an art form where great players are defined by generations. Some of the greatest players perform in obscurity in small towns for a lifetime, and many never get the recognition they deserve.
And then there are some, playing mostly in New York, who for one reason or another, take many years to emerge and get the recognition they deserve.
Such is the case for Joe Lovano. He's has been working and recording for decades. But for whatever reason, he has not received the kind of recognition of other players in of his generation. For one thing, his recordings do not in any way present a full picture of his current immense power and mastery. This is a classic case of the nature of jazz and what is the best way to experience this art. Fact is, only in small, intimate performance spaces like Yoshi’s, where you are eye to eye with the players, can you experience the ultimate jazz thrill – spontaneous creation by a true jazz master..
LOVANO has put together a band with pianist James Weidman, Petar Slavov on bass, and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, that created a remarkable sense of excitement. The drum tandem, playing together and apart, were absolutely and perfectly musical every single moment.
Then there was LOVANO, a mountain of a saxophonist, who took total control. The first set absolutely demonstrated the emergence of one of the great masters of the saxophone. LOVANO is now at the pinnacle of his powers as a technician and soloist.
For all wind players in jazz, there is a huge problem. How do you follow the mastery of Coltrane, Parker and Rollins? LOVANO has addressed this head on. His idea is to attack the issue by demonstrating his creativity with the sources themselves. As he opened the first set,LOVANO played a medley of Charlie Parker tunes that had your head spinning. Each piece flowed into the next with a speed and power that AKIN TO riding a roller coaster, or sliding down a snow bank. From HIS initial notes, it became obvious that this was going to be an ultimate experience, a breakthrough of rockin' 'n' rollin' jazz that only a few select few in the world can achieve. LOVANO'S golden saxophone bobbed and weaved as he blasted through "Yardbird Suite," "Barbados" (BOTH COMPOSED BY PARKER), a ravishing "Lover Man" and originals "Us Five," "Folk Ar't and "Our Daily Bread."
But it wasn’t just Charlie Parker that LOVANO referenced – he also drew brilliantly from masters of the saxophone such as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Gene Ammons. LOVANO is now among the greatest synthesizers in jazz. But as he told me after the show, one of the central themes of his playing is the idea that he can make the music sing
LOVANO is fascinated by and focused on the vocal qualities of his instruments, a G mezzo soprano and A Terragusto instrument from Hungary among them. His guttural, powerful cries, swoops, squeaks and flips all make perfect sense in A most musical way, and his enormous power and speed is unparalleled, perhaps unsurpassed by any other player today. Finally, LOVANO is piecing together all of the elements of the music, its history and tapestry of sources, in a collage of sound that is as thrilling and unique as it is his very own style.
After the first set I was completely exhausted, thrilled and amazed. How could I miss the rest of this evening’s sets? If the theme of the first set was Charley Parker, then the second was the music and spirit of Thelonius Monk, Lovano delivered astonishing renditions of Monk’s "Pannonica," "Hackensack", PLUS and a rousing FINALE, a Lovano original called "Viva Caruso."
I tried to think of the great players I had missed in my life, Chu Berry, Hank Mobley, Rashaan Roland Kirk, and so many others. Jazz is about generations, greatness in time, and the power and soul of the world’s great masters. On this one night, I had experienced a moment of such power and creative drive that years of listening and interest finally paid off. Joe Lovano had brought all the great horn masters to the table, and he had SERVED a banquet for the ages.
Thank you, Joe, for an unforgettable evening. And thank you ,Yoshi’s, for making this music fly.
Joe Lovano can only get better. It's a beautifully scary thought.
-- Ken Vermes
Joe Lovano’s web site is http://www.joelovano.com/
His latest recording is "Bird Songs," for the Blue Note label.