As leader, improviser and arranger, Joe Lovano brings together bop, post-bop and free jazz into a three-dimensional form that swings hard. Whether his tenor sax sandpapers a hard bop line or squeals like a bird on speed, he leans on the past while looking to the future. After hearing his most recent release, “On This Day . . at the Vanguard,” one is tempted to conclude that they don’t make records like this anymore, but they will.
Following up on the Grammy-winning “52nd Street Themes,” “On This Day” captures live what he nailed in the studio three years ago with the same band. This live disc, though, expands on the group improvisation while preseving the fresh arrangments. Though best known for his post-bop outings (1994’s “Quartets” and 1991’s “From the Soul”) and most surprising with his tribute to Enrico Caruso (2002’s “Viva Caruso”), the midsize nonet on this recording probably has the broadest appeal for those looking for a recording that makes free jazz palatable and straight jazz wild.
Captured live at the New York’s Village Vanguard last September, this recording exudes a relaxed and natural group feel. Much like the tight horn section of Supersax, a group that transcribed and orchestrated Charlie Parker solos, this is a big joyous group with a wide-open approach. Unlike Supersax, though, Lovano’s conception of a big horn section draws from a broader and deeper pool of influences. The bits and pieces of sax giants and great leaders feel less like stolen fragments and more like natural directions to take.
The horn section makes an easy transition from reflective cool (as on “My Little Brown Book”) to full-throttle jamming (as on the opener, “At the Vanguard”). With one tune from John Coltrane, two from Tadd Dameron, one from Billy Strayhorn, a standard (the lovely “Laura”) and two originals, the balance of past compositions with progressive sensibilities is perfect. The wall of horns, made of five saxes, one trumpet and one trombone, sway with sophistication on “Focus,” rip into the searing hard-bop classic “Good Bait,” and flip open freely on “On This Day.” Both directions sound right, with everyone free to plunk unexpected additions here, pull a slight tempo switch there, and then flow back into a hard-driving ensemble sound.
Energy is the main focus here, and this is a jazz recording to be played loud. The musicians are clearly inspired by recording at the Village Vanguard, the jazz pantheon where so many great live recordings have been made. “On This Day” is a worthy addition to that catalog of excellent jazz.
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