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Joe Lovano: 52nd Street Themes

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Lovano’s venture in nostalgia is a visit to the music that he heard when he was growing up and becoming a musician in Cleveland. Fortunately for him, and for the listener, what he heard under the aegis of his father were the great jazz artists of the ’40s and ’50s. The compositions the tenor saxophonist explores were written or played by Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ernie Henry, Billy Strayhorn and George Gershwin. Lovano and his father’s friend and colleague Willie “Face” Smith arranged seven of them for a nine-piece band. In voicings and harmonic movement, the nonet arrangements are modern reflections of Dameron’s style, including affecting versions of “If You Could See Me Now,” “Tadd’s Delight,” “Whatever Possessed Me” and “On a Misty Night.”

The remaining tracks are by various-sized groups, ranging from one to six instrumentalists. Lovano solos throughout with warmth and relaxation and in the spirit of the era he is saluting. The other horn players follow suit. There is notable work from trumpeter Tim Hagans, trombonist Conrad Herwig, alto saxophonist Steve Slagle, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and tenors George Garzone and Ralph Lalama. Lovano’s unaccompanied solo, “Abstractions on 52nd Street,” written in its entirety and full of modulations, leads into a full-blown performance of Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” that incorporates a sizzling Slagle solo and a riveting face-off between Lovano and Garzone. The championship rhythm section is pianist John Hicks, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Lewis Nash. Hicks’ sensitivity is a crucial element of the success of Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower,” his duet with Lovano. Lovano hopes to establish his nonet as a working, traveling band. The evidence of this first outing favors that idea.