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Joe Lovano: Viva Caruso

The beauty of Joe Lovano paying homage to Enrico Caruso is that very few of Lovano’s fans have ever heard the legendary opera superstar, let alone have the requisite familiarity with his recordings to gauge the saxophonist’s interpretations. Subsequently, the only nut Lovano has to turn is making good music that stands on its own. Lovano does exactly that on Viva Caruso, a largely convivial album refreshingly free of the stereotypical melodrama and bombast associated with such Caruso signatures as “O Sole Mio,” which Lovano mercifully deflates in his own reading.

Lovano’s penchant for understatement is evident in his use of twin basses (Ed Schuller and Scott Lee) and drummers (Carmen Castaldi uses brushes while Bob Meyer uses mallets) to transform the opener, “Vesto la Giubba” from I Pagliacci, into a hushed Coltraneish dirge. The initial austerity of Lovano’s lament gives way to breathy lyricism and finally a resolute edge; by keeping a tight lid on the theatrics that usually hijacks the piece, Lovano intensifies the drama. Arranger Byron Olson’s charts for a woodwind-heavy large ensemble achieve similar results on pieces like “Tarantella Sincera,” which effortlessly shifts between melancholy and lilting swing.

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