Joe Lovano | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Joe Lovano 

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Joe Lovano

In the last few years Joe Lovano has recorded with fellow tenor saxophonists Joshua Redman and Flip Phillips--a skilled but overhyped 31-year-old traditionalist and a rabble-rouser in his mid-80s, respectively--and that alone demonstrates the tremendously broad territory he occupies in modern jazz. On Lovano's 1994 Tenor Legacy (Blue Note) he plays the master to Redman's apprentice; the young saxist's handlers might have hoped the album would mark him as a successor to Lovano, poised to pull off the same marvelous wedding of mainstream lyricism and postfreedom expressionism, but Redman doesn't really have that potential. Phillips made his name in the 40s, before Lovano was even born: his honking, crowd-pleasing solos helped make the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concerts an international institution. On Phillips's new and surprisingly strong Swing Is the Thing! (Verve), Lovano takes his turn as the junior player, with an approach that's more subtle than the elder statesman's but equally effective. (He's like the college-educated son coming home to take over the family business--and actually, his family business is jazz. His father, Tony, was one of Cleveland's best homegrown tenor players in the 50s and 60s.) Lovano has a veteran's long experience and deep knowledge of jazz history, but from that vantage he looks forward, like any good up-and-comer. Not well-known until the 1990s, he had years to cultivate his ideas outside the spotlight's glare; when he finally "arrived," with a diverse series of Blue Note albums, he'd already developed into a potent improviser, able to balance his instrument's past with its potential. His new disc, 52nd Street Themes (Blue Note), captures the spirit of bebop's heyday, with large-ensemble arrangements of tunes from the late 40s and 50s, but he does more than merely mimic his first heroes: Lovano's fiercely propulsive solos are filled with fascinating side trips and melodic flights that bridge the decades. The best showcase for his talents remains a pianoless trio, like the one he's bringing for these shows; bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Idris Muhammad buoy his playing, and the absence of another melody instrument makes it easier for him to stretch the mainstream fabric taut and thin. Thursday, May 25, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. Neil Tesser

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jimmy Katz.

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