Musicians and fans alike often speak of the malleability of Joe Lovano's sound; the fluidity of his style is, perhaps counter-intuitively, what makes him so identifiable. He is equally powerful in hardbop, bebop, free jazz and large ensemble settings, and he's able to unite these sounds in a cohesive album, song or even solo if you give him enough choruses. On a broader scale, his discography itself embodies this flexibility. His newest effort, Streams of Expression is a welcome addition, exploring the ground-breaking aesthetic of Miles Davis's 1940s debut album Birth of the Cool. Half of the album is dedicated to Lovano's own five-part Streams of Expression Suite, commissioned in 2001 for the Monterey Jazz Festival. Distinguished composer, arranger, musicologist, historian and educator Gunther Schuller worked extensively with Lovano on the Birth of the Cool Suite, adding touches of his own while retaining much of the velvety voicings of the original orchestrations. (Schuller himself played French horn on one of the original Cool sessions and even conducted a rather complex coda penned by Gil Evans on "Moon Dreams," which he revists here).
Works so deliberate, especially those bearing the marks of Third Stream, are often labeled as "thinking man's jazz," too cerebral to be simply enjoyed, but these pieces have rewards for any kind of listener: melodic and/or fiery solos, memorable interpretations and an estimable band including Tim Hagans, Steve Slagle, George Garzone, Gary Smulyan and the late John Hicks.
But for the listener who does want to dig deep, you can dig some videos from the Streams of Expression website with footage of the recording session and intelligent interviews with Lovano and Schuller. Grab a drink and enjoy: Schuller's insights on Gil Evans's demanding yet fruitful orchestrations; Lovano's elaboration on the origins and inspirations of his Streams of Expression Suite; a look at the custom-made Aulochrome (like a double-soprano sax); a portrait of the man Lovano himself.
And, of course, buy the albums:
Joe Lovano: Streams of Expression
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool