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Symphonica (2008)

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Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano's joint project with the vaunted WDR Big Band & Rudfunk Orchester from Germany (recorded live in concert on November 26, 2005, aside from the studio track "His Dreams") is one of many collaborations combining an American jazz artist with the horns and strings of this classically oriented, jazz-informed orchestra. Randy Brecker's project with WDR on Some Skunk Funk and brother Michael fronting the group of Claus Ogerman on Cityscape come immediately to mind as parallels. Symphonica is Lovano's 20th recording for the Blue Note label, and his fourth orchestral project. What the saxophonist does in working with this group and the arrangements of veteran Michael Abene allows space for breathing, emotional range, and expansive palette colors that a small ensemble cannot attain. Splitting time between tenor and soprano, Lovano personally can't be matched by any contemporary player, and merges well with the strings, oboes, and brass players in WDR that are featured in certain well-regulated spots. It is also evident that the tone, ideas, and clarity of Lovano's style get better with age. Another aspect is that WDR do not play staid or rote music. The opener, "Emperor Jones" (dedicated to Elvin Jones), combines all the elegant elements of orchestral and jazz musics beautifully, not as cerebral, but as if they were always meant to be together. Listen to the shout choruses and quirky and kinetic neo-bop stance to hard bop swinging on "Alexander the Great," the darting and bobbing harder-edged choppy contemporary funk with electric guitar and piano during "The Dawn of Time," or the classic siren song treatment drenched in oboe and clarinet of the very interesting new version of "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love." Clearly the stamp of Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Gil Evans is firmly embossed on all of this music. Lovano's soprano work deserves further attention, as he blends hip and heavy phrases with the band on the funky modal 6/8 unison lines of "Eternal Joy," and is involved in more intricate weavings of modified tints on the atmospheric waltz "His Dreams." Strings sigh and pine during "I'm All for You," a Lovano original love song -- based on the changes of the famous "Body and Soul" -- that has tuneful potential to be a future standard. This is a completely realized, well-exercised, and thoughtfully programmed recording. Most should expect nothing less from Lovano and the WDR Big Band & Rudfunk Orchester. ~ Michael G. Nastos