Saturday, April 30, 2005

Joe Lovano - Joyous Encounter

Joe's new Blue Note album is a follow up to last year's quartet session "I'm All For You", which featured Joe along with the "dean" of jazz pianists Hank Jones, bassist George Mraz and drummer Paul Motian. "Joyous Encounter" features the same band, this time though the pace is a little more uptempo than the previous ballads session. I enjoyed the previous album by this group, but though Paul Motian maybe wasn't the right drummer for this group, as his minimalist style didn't seem to ever quite mesh with the rest of the group. That of course created a sort of creative tension that can be rewarding on its own, but still it had its odd moments. On this new session, two things help to improve that situtaiton. First, more medium and uptempo pieces provide a better and more varied setting for Motian's pointilistic percussion statements. Second, the group has had a chance to tour over the past year, and it shows. It sounds like a band now, and not just four jazz stars meeting in the studio.

Lovano is in fine form as always, where on an uptempo bop inspired piece like "Bird's Eye View" (based on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" but with some "Giant Steps" susbtitutions) or on some lovely ballads like "Alone Together." I really doubt that there is a more "mature" jazz musician of this era than Joe Lovano. No matter the setting, he speaks with the authority that we used to hear with all of the greatest jazz musicians, and does so with a highly personal style that both expands and respects the tradition. There is little to be said about Hank Jones that hasn't already been documented by writers far better than me. But simply put, Hank's playing is the pinnacle of mainstream, mid-century jazz piano. No one, and I mean no one does it better than Hank, he is a true legend, and in fine form on this session. This is the sort of jazz album that renews your faith in the genre.

A few final notes. Lovano plays soprano sax on a few numbers. He's playing a "curved" soprano these days, and you can hear the unique sound of that instrument shining through at points, with almost a timbre of a tenor at points, but an octave higher of course. And finally, the album ends with an odd choice for this group - John Coltrane's "Crescent" - a tribute to Hank's departed brother Elvin Jones. I'm not sure if it really works with this group, and specifically Hank's style. It's not bad, but Hank doesn't sound especially comfortable in the setting, especially in the introduction to the tune. But after the rubato open, the group settles into a nice groove, and things sound just fine.

See the "behind the scenes" video and hear some of the tunes from the album on Joe's website...


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