Music

Joe Lovano: Streams of Expression

Two suites of complexly orchestrated jazz that update The Birth of the Cool -- and two takes on the whole shebang.


Joe Lovano

Streams of Expression

Contributors: Gunther Schuller, Steve Slagle, Tim Hagans, John Hicks, Dennis Irwin, Lewis Nash
Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2006-08-01
UK Release Date: 2006-07-31
Amazon
iTunes

Consensus

Joe Lovano is a great and madly diverse saxophonist -- a mainstream player who nevertheless has a serpentine taste for harmonic adventure, and a cat who has most certainly found his own sound. Capable of being as big and brawny as any "Texas Tenor", Lovano more often opts for a bristling but fuzzy tone -- something gentle and indirect and quicksilver.

Lovano has used his talent and unique jazz sensibility under the major label umbrella of Blue Note Records for some time now, where he has recorded a series of thematic records that seem designed to showcase him in perversely different ways: Viva Caruso, playing mostly Italian songs associated with the opera singer with a "street band" and an "opera ensemble"; 52nd Street Themes, playing '40s bop with his nonet; two Trio Fascination discs featuring various piano/guitarless groups, quartets with featured pianists (two with Hank Jones, one with Michel Petrucciani); a Sinatra tribute; a guitar record; a duo face-off with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba; and even Rush Hour, a wildly diverse collaboration with "third stream" arranger and composer Gunther Schuller that pitted Lovano against a bevy of parallel voices -- strings, woodwinds, you name it.

In a word... Phew!

Streams of Expression renews Mr. Lovano's work with Gunther Schuller, but it does so much else as well.

On the One Hand... this is exhausting. Granted, Joe Lovano is a restless and huge talent who can take in a diversity of styles and settings. But his Blue Note catalog seems like a mad travel itinerary forcing listeners to hop from one great place to another without ever setting down roots. This tendency is exacerbated by Lovano's impressive multi-instrumentalism -- he plays tenor, alto, soprano, C-melody sax, various clarinets, even percussion. On this latest record, he is scattered within the scope of a single disc -- playing his own arrangements for an eleven-piece band; playing Schuller's reinterpretation of tunes from Miles Davis's seminal Birth of the Cool album; then playing trio tracks that feature not only his conventional saxophones but also a new double-bodied soprano horn called the "aulochrome". I'm pooped just thinking about listening to it.

Joe Lovano -- Birth of the Cool Suite

On the Other Hand... this recording is the kind of summarizing masterpiece that Lovano's career has been leading up to all along. Drinking generously from his small group work while also setting his tenor amidst brilliantly colorful arrangements of both originals and standards, Streams of Expression has two approaches that complement each other -- with the musical vocabulary sweeping from the straight bluesy swing of "Cool" to the gnarlier ensemble growls of "The Fire Prophets".

OK, Fine, But Then... why do I find it so hard to listen to this record? It seems designed to break my concentration and even vex me. The "Streams of Expression Suite" is referred to in the liner notes as having either five or seven parts, with the parts being interrupted (or even played out of order?). The original material is dedicated to a litany of Lovano's inspirations, but it bookends the Birth of the Cool material, which is a more direct exercise in recreation and nostalgia. Fine as each piece is, the jumble is a cacophonous overload of quality. The "masterpiece" jazz albums -- if that's the word you're going to through around -- tend to have a single brilliant conception: Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

Great Music, Friend, Is Not Supposed... to be easy. And this album is layered and rich like the great ones always are. The Lovano suite shifts over several decades of styles in progressive jazz, but it's more an integration than a grab-bag of pastiche. Opening with a free-ballad statement from the trio, it only gradually incorporates the voices of the other horns in stately contrary motion. By its midpoint, however, the first track has the whole ensemble playing in a dense, partly improvised section -- leading to a cascade of whispers from the leader over straight swing. This mesmerizing opening leads naturally to the section "Cool" that could only be followed by Schuller's rich re-imagining of three tracks from the Davis masterpiece. Following it all requires some concentration -- which is as it should be with great music.

So, You Really Love The Birth of the Cool Material? Because I find it vaguely unnecessary and padded out. Schuller's arrangements are not mere Gil Evans copies, sure, but there is a nostalgic cast to the project still -- with Schuller's original links between the pieces not changing your overall impression of sameness. Lovano does a superb job of playing his way through the harmonic richness of "Moon Dreams", and it's always great to hear "Boplicity" again -- but these well-known tunes stand in the way of the freshness of the other material.

I Do Love It, Man -- Sorry. What Gunther has done with the Cool material is what we need more of in jazz: innovation that includes the tradition. These arrangements, while plainly informed by Gil Evans's originals, are more harmonically complex and layered, and the interlude material helps to concentrate your ear on the way in which Cool was a single conception that led to some of the less "pretty" but equally audacious advanced of the 1960s and '70s. Plus, when Lovano returns with more of his "Streams of Expression" material, we can hear these connections alive and well. "Second Nature" overtly references Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman, but the arrangement has a block voicing that reminds us of West Coast cool too. "Buckeyes" stabs in tight unison that includes voicing for flute, muted trumpet, and baritone saxophone then moves into a hypnotic counterpoint -- clean and concise even as it seems as modern as tomorrow.

Fine, But Are You Giving 'Thumbs-Up' To... the "aulochrome"? "Big Ben" is a handsome melody for a trio performance, but this strange double soprano sax sounds less like an innovation in woodwind design than like a weird electronic effect. The aulochrome has two horn bodies and a fused, double-mouthpiece, with fingerings that allow the horn to be played in a shadowy out-of-tune unison or in a very limited kind of counterpoint. It's kinda cool, I guess, but a gimmick nevertheless. I'd bet you my (uh -- our) house that the aulochrome is a quickly forgotten gimmick before the next Paul Motian Trio album comes out. That, my friend, is the band where Joe Lovano really shows his top-this stuff.

Then We'll Have to Agree to Disagree... because that crazy double-horn may never replace the alto, but what's not to love? "Big Ben" has a tipsy, fun quality that is the perfect way to end this otherwise momentous disc -- Lovano seems to stumble home under the street lights while Dennis Irwin's bass and Lewis Nash's drums pave a road of elastic swing beneath him. Maybe you're right that this playing is a far cry from the single-conception purity of Lovano's work with Paul Motian, but the scope of Streams of Expression -- its wider reach and its willingness to cast modern jazz in a more arranged format -- makes it a greater risk too. And -- even with the aulochrome track -- the risk is well worth it.

If I'm really going to make up my mind, perhaps I should listen to this disc again. Which isn't such a bad fate... or so I seem to think.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.