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Lovano in London: Feisty Bop, Heartfelt Ballads

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Monday November 13, 2017

From Financial Times

Joe Lovano Classic Quartet, Ronnie Scott’s — feisty bop, heartfelt ballads
By: Mike Hobart

The American saxophonist was on imperious form for this gutsy two-set gig.

American saxophonist Joe Lovano closed this gutsy two-set gig with an up-tempo swinger and a reminder that he first played at Ronnie Scott’s in 1977 with the Woody Herman Orchestra. He returned a decade later with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, but since then Lovano has been a regular headline draw.

Tonight’s sax-and-rhythm gig, the classic quartet of the title, referenced repertoire from recent projects. The first set, announced as a suite of compositions, opened with the feisty bop of “Bird’s Eye View” from Lovano’s 2005 Newport Jazz Festival collaboration with pianist Hank Jones (a recording of the performance was released last year, titled Classic! Live at Newport). The relaxed and tender “Our Daily Bread” came next, from a big-band recording with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. Then “Mystic”, a mood-piece from his Wayne Shorter tribute project Sound Prints, segued into John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament”.

Although clearly marked themes, soloists to the fore and pre-set structures signalled a traditional path, long improvisations and strong musical personalities pushed the form to its limits. Lovano articulates his breathy tenor sax with a light touch and alternates fast-fingered slurs with puffed-cheek low-note honks, delicate high-note phonics and passages of lyrical invention. His phrases come at a slant, smoothing out angles before darting into trenchant riffs or spraying out lines that border on abstraction without losing the underlying structure. Pianist Lawrence Fields balances tradition and invention with an equally strong voice. While right-hand lines sparkled with modernist intent, left-hand counterpoint strode purposefully to the bass, creating tension, climax and intrigue. In support, bassist Peter Slavov was a pitch-perfect foundation for Otis Brown III’s cymbal-driven swing and snare-drum chatter.

Midway through the first set, Lovano switched to the tárogató — it looks like a bulbous clarinet and sounds like a snake charmer’s pipe. The sour quarter-toned fragments firmed into a dance and launched a dazzling interlude of two-handed piano accompanied by a thunder of mallets. Lovano returned to hint at the theme of “Lonnie’s Lament”, switched to tenor and finished the set with a rampage of swing.

He repeated the exercise halfway through the intense second set with a spellbinding reshaping of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”. “It’s Easy to Remember” followed, a heartfelt ballad with Lovano and Fields on such imperious form that the zippy swinger of a finale they segued into seemed almost an afterthought. But as Lovano’s phrases tumbled over a surge of rhythm, it brought the evening to a high.

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