SCANDAL / DOUGLAS: Dream State. LOVANO: Full Sun. SHORTER: Fee Fi Fo Fum (arr. Douglas). DOUGLAS: Ups and Downs. LOVANO: The Corner Tavern. DOUGLAS: Scandal. SHORTER: Juju (arr. Lovano). DOUGLAS: Mission Creep. LOVANO: Full Moon. High Noon. DOUGLAS: Libra / Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Douglas, tpt; Lovano, t-sax/sop-sax; Lawrence Fields, pno; Linda May Han Oh, bs; Joey Baron, dm / Greenleaf Music (no number), available for download from iTunes
This disc, selected by Jazz Times as one of its albums of the year (2018), features the five-year-old band Sound Prints headed by saxist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas. The album largely references the early work of saxist Wayne Shorter, particularly during the years when he was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet.
It’s not so much that Lovano imitates Shorter’s unique sound—he has his own way of playing both the soprano and tenor saxes—so much as it is the unusual rhythmic and harmonic contours of his music that is channeled here. And it is indeed quite a trip: continuously inventive, with the two leaders in top form, playing for their own enjoyment as well as playing off one another. Similarly, Douglas doesn’t consciously try to sound like Davis; for the most part, he sounds more like Freddie Hubbard with a large, warm, open tone. Nor is this session only about the two horns. Pianist Lawrence Fields is an equally creative and interesting player in his own right, and drummer Joey Baron bashes away behind them with unrestrained joy. Linda May Han Oh is the fine but understated bassist supporting it all.
And indeed, joy is the principal feeling one gets from this album. The group almost sounds as if it was playing for its own enjoyment, and we are being allowed to sit in on the session. To a certain extent, it has the same kind of feel as some of those Blue Note LPs from the last period in which Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were running the show. You can almost see Lion dancing around the studio as the album was being recorded, waving his arms and saying, “It must schwing!”
And “schwing” they do, in their own unusual, rhythmically off-kilter way. In much of his tenor playing, Lovano creates a sort of flat, tubular sound, much like other 1960s tenor icons like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, but again, he’s playing his own stuff, not theirs. I also liked Douglas’ big, warm tone on trumpet, and although both musicians push the edge somewhat neither goes so far out on a limb that they sound as if they’re squealing and squawking just for the sake of sounding “avant-garde.” One critic, reviewing this disc, was somewhat dismayed that it was “unapologetically a jazz album,” entirely instrumental and “jazz-referential.” What a doofus. Does he want mooshy-gooshy lounge jazz? Not me. I hear, and reject, far too many such discs nowadays.
Moreover, their arrangements are real compositions, with beginnings, middles and ends. In Ups and Downs, while Fields plays his excellent piano solo, the two horns find a nice riff to fill in behind him, together in thirds, and throughout the album it is evident that Lovano and Douglas listen carefully to each other as they play off each other with intuitive genius. The Corner Tavern is a particularly quirky, off-kilter piece, full of humorous licks and piquant harmonic changes. (Hey, when was the last time you saw a jazz critic use the word “piquant” in a review, huh?)
This is the kind of album where one almost feels stymied trying to describe each track and everything that is going on simply because the music is so rich and fulfilling. The aural experience is greater than anything I could say about it. The title track, a moody, modern jazz ballad by Douglas, is a perfect case in point. In fact, in a certain sense the quintet seems to be channeling a brilliant jazz composer like Charles Mingus as much as they are channeling Wayne Shorter, and that’s perfectly fine by me. Lovano’s rearrangement of Shorter’s Juju is a perfect case in point, almost moving completely away from any definable beat during Fields’ piano solo, only to suddenly revert to the original rhythm afterwards—until Lovano indulges in a rare flurry of “outside” jazz towards the end. Fields almost steals the show from the co-leaders with his brilliant solo on Mission Creep.
Yes, this is certainly one of the finer jazz albums of 2018. Listen and enjoy.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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