Joe Lovano ‘Folk Art’ (Blue Note) 4/5

joe-lovanoOver a fifteen year period Joe Lovano has established himself as the premier Blue Note saxophonist of the new era since the label was relaunched in 1985. Indeed this new album is his twenty-second and he has recorded in ever conceivable format over this period. For this latest offering Lovano has surrounded himself by a new, dynamic band, but one that has cemented its relationship via a week In general this album has a markedly freer feel than on previous albums (such as the pairing with Hank Jones or the quartet with Michel Petrucciani from the mid-1990s). However, it is always freedom within a coherent and clear structure and it is Joe’s omnipresent lyricism displayed on a variety of reed instruments that shines through. Perhaps the most striking composition (all pieces were self-penned by Lovano)is ‘Page Four’ on which Lovano plays alto clarinet and upcoming and immensely talented bassist Esperenza Spaulding excels on intimate bass solos. The catchy title track brings into focus the young pianist James Weidman and his piano licks here are reminiscent of the early McCoy Tyner sides. Two ballads are featured including a tribute to Joe’s wife on ‘Song for Judi’, but it is the improvisational character of pieces like ‘Us Five’ and ‘Drum Song’ where the band are able individually and collectively to stretch out. For a little variety, Lovano devotes one tune ‘Dibango’ to the legendary Cameroonian saxophonist and this is played in a funk groove. Overall a well-rounded album and one the proves beyond doubt that Joe Lovano is one of the premier saxophonists of his generation, and one of the few remaining with a firm grounding in the experiences of the fifties and sixties masters.

Tim Stenhouse