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September 2006

Joe Lovano
Streams of Expression
Blue Note Records

These quasi-repertory albums can be a tricky lot, especially when dealing with a legendary work. Unless they come up with something radically different—David S. Ware’s take on Sonny Rollins’ “The Freedom Suite,” for instance—they can end up descending into drudgery. The prolific saxophonist Joe Lovano mostly avoids that pitfall with Streams of Expression.

This disc can be considered something of a sequel to 1995’s Rush Hour, which stands among Lovano’s very best. That album paired him with conductor and Third Stream proselytizer Gunther Schuller, and here the master rejoins Lovano. But this time Schuller reaches back into personal history: Between the two halves of Lovano’s “Streams of Expression Suite” we find “Birth of the Cool Suite.” Yes, Schuller—who played on those pioneering Miles Davis nonet sessions—helps revive it for another large ensemble here. The music is interesting enough, especially when Lovano solos, but this is not a disc that will find itself in my CD changer often. (When I want to hear Birth of the Cool, I’ll play Birth of the Cool.)

It is Lovano’s original suite that constitutes the better portion of this album. Special attention is due the final movement, “Fire Prophet,” which burns through the speakers with a dynamite solo from the leader. This album also marks the debut of a brand-new instrument; the Aulochrome, a double soprano saxophone created specifically for Lovano. It sounds like two sopranos played simultaneously, bringing a new texture to Lovano’s work.

Originally published in September 2006
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