Saturday, September 13, 2008

Joe Lovano - Symphonica (Blue Note, 2008)

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Joe Lovano's most recent project is an ambitious collaboration with the WDR Radio Orchestra of Germany, putting him in front of not only a big band, but an entire symphony orchestra. He has done these "third stream" collaborations before, with arranger Gunther Schuller, so this is not a stretch. How much you like this recording really will depend on how much you enjoy elaborate musical arrangements, particularly with strings. I'm not a real big fan of these type of projects, but I approached it with as open of a mind as possible. I must say that Lovano was superb throughout the recording, playing with majesty and grace on every track. The problem was that I feel his wonderful performance was diminished by the very rich accompaniment of the symphony. My favorite pieces on the album where the two uptempo ones, where he was given an opportunity to stretch out and blow. "Eternal Joy" was a knotty and twisting performance, where he weaves a complex improvisation while "Alexander The Great" is more of a straight-ahead jam. Both were exciting and captivating performances and gave Lovano a chance to muscle the strings out of the way and lay claim to the music. The baggage of the orchestra becomes too much to ignore on the ballads. Charles Mingus' great composition "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" and the standard "I'm All For You" become like confections that are bogged down with heavy cream, sugar and eggs, they became ponderous and there was just no room to move. Despite some fine solos from Lovano, these tracks are dragged down by the weight of the arrangements. So overall, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Joe Lovano is clearly at the top of his game, but the intricate arrangements of the orchestra and their lack of flexibility prevent this from being an entirely successful project.

Send comments to: Tim