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Lovano's Lure

[whitespace] Joe Lovano Within the Context: Joe Lovano thrives by seeking out creative bandleaders.

The tenor sax giant explores
new sonic landscapes

By Andrew Gilbert

JOE LOVANO takes no prisoners. Though the 45-year-old jazzman started recording as a leader relatively late in his career, the prodigious saxophonist and composer (who appears this week at the Stanford Jazz Festival) has quickly joined such revered veterans as Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson in the tenor firmament with a series of ambitious, often breathtaking albums for Blue Note. Whether on tenor--his main horn--alto or bass clarinet, Lovano is a striking improviser. His sound is thick and rich; his solos are full of surprising jumps and squeals. But what makes Lovano such a great jazz musician is that he always finds ways to play within the given context, no matter what the instrumentation. Though he came of age in the fusion era, when technique often served as an end in itself, Lovano thrived by seeking out the most creative bandleaders.

"Every musician has his own personal history to draw from that's completely unique," Lovano says, in a phone call from New York. "But a lot of younger cats who started in the fusion period of the '70s never played standard songs and never studied the history of jazz and are very limited musicians. Jazz is a beautiful creative world of music, but for me there are only a handful of cats who are dealing with that aspect."

After early organ-trio jobs and a long stay with the Woody Herman Orchestra, Lovano chalked up formative gigs with the Mel Lewis Big Band, drummer Paul Motian's various ensembles, bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and pianist Carla Bley. He gained his widest public exposure touring and recording with guitarist John Scofield. But it's as a bandleader that Lovano has made the deepest impression.

With each recording, he has expanded the possibilities of his music. It's not so much that he is breaking new ground--although the sublime and complex orchestrations that Manny Albam wrote for Celebrating Sinatra and that Gunther Schuller created for 1995's brilliant Rush Hour sound like nothing else in jazz. Lovano insists on exploring new sonic landscapes, using unusual instrumentation and an improvisational style as original as it is rooted in the music's most profound past. His latest Blue Note album, Flying Colors, is a stunning duo session with the powerful Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. "Each record is an outpouring for me as a musician and a person," Lovano says. "There are a lot of cats who make the same record over and over, or they make an album that sounds like their favorite record."

At the Stanford Jazz Festival, Lovano will play in a variety of contexts--from solo and duo combinations to standard rhythm section to a double-drummer rhythm section. His all-star cast features pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Rufus Reid and two supremely tasteful and experienced drummers, Billy Higgins and Tootie Heath.

Joe Lovano & Friends play the Stanford Jazz Festival Monday at 7:30pm at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium. Admission is $22/20. For tickets call 650/725-ARTS.

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From the July 30-Aug. 5, 1998 issue of Metro.

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