Call it dinner jazz with a slightly erudite edge if you like...
Jon Lusk 2008
On his 20th album for Blue Note, Grammy-winning post bop sax maestro Joe Lovano is joined in a series of mostly live performances by the WDR Orchestra, directed and arranged by Michael Abene. Although Lovano paid some of his dues with the Woody Herman Orchestra, it’s the first time in his solo career that he’s recorded with a full symphony. What results is an empathetic run through a selection of mostly original material (except for Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love, penned by long term Lovano favourite Charles Mingus) which amounts to a best-of retrospective. The range of the material underlines Lovano's versatility, but also a certain MOR sensibility that's pleasant, but hardly challenging.
The closest Lovano gets to the avant-garde is on the quirky, freewheeling, Eric Dolphy-ish Eternal Joy, one of two numbers on which he switches to soprano sax to good effect. Sleevenotes don't say who the excellent trumpeter joining him here and on the likes of I'm All For You and the bustling, percussive The Dawn Of Time is, but s/he’s certainly worth a mention. The latter also features some tasty noodling from guitarist Paul Shigihara. The other notable soloist is pianist Frank Chastenier, whose liquid phrasing lights up the suave ballad Emperor Jones.
Lovano himself is at his best on the smoochier numbers like the above, gliding from one inspired, fluid improvisation to the next with the assurance of an elder (or at least fully mature) statesman of jazz who has been a respected solo artist since the mid-eighties. His horn neither dominates the lush arrangements nor is swamped by them, which is a credit to producer Lucas M. Schmid and the rapport achieved with Abene. Call it dinner jazz with a slightly erudite edge if you like, but it certainly won't give you indigestion.