Celebrating its fiftieth year in existence, ECM turns to tenorist Joe Lovano who records his first album for the label as a leader after spending a happy and lengthy tenure at Blue Note, with whom he remained for some twenty-five years or more. If the evocative front cover with Lovano underneath one of New York’s fine bridges and with the Manhattan skyline in the background, hints at a homage to Sonny Rollins in the 1960s, the trio sound is more contemporary, with word beats in the percussion of the youthful Carmen Castaldi who impresses throughout while Marilyn Crispell is an unusual piano partner.
This partnership does not have the melodic pizzazz of say Hank Jones and Lovano, either in a live setting, or in the studio, and, in truth, the all original Lovano pieces are not all that memorable. That said, the album is notable for the use of space between notes. That can be heard on ‘Sparkle Light’, which has something of an impressionistic quality to it. A spiritual quality permeates ‘One Time Is’, where Lovano’s tenor sounds as if it has been processed through a tunnel to create echo and more particularly on, ‘Mystic’, where the leader develops his continuing passion for the tarogato, a Hungarian reed instrument. The partnership between Crispell and Lovano works best when they are perform in tandem from the outset, as is the case on ‘Seeds Of Change’.
Mention must be made of the fine contribution of Carmen Castaldi, who deploys an array of ethnic percussive instruments including the Chinese gong on occasion. A future duo album beckons surely because there is a natural empathy between drummer and saxophonist, as evidenced on their duet from the outset on, ‘Rare beauty’, and even evoking the Coltrane/Elvin Jones partnership on ‘Spirit Lake’. In contrast, Crispell offers a relaxing classic style on a piece such as, ‘Terrassa’, where the tenor gradually weaves its way in and the number becomes ever more abstract in tone. Interestingly, this is one of the few compositions where all three instrumentalists operate together and that is something missing from the rest. In fact, typical of the album is, ‘Razzle Dazzle’, where the piano dominates and on a number that is just over three and a half minutes, the tenor does not enter before the two minute mark. The album ends on a lyrical note with ‘The Smiling Dog’. Not quite the fireworks one might have expected with this line-up, but in spite of that reservation, the presence of Joe Lovano on ECM, where in the past he has often figured as a guest sideman, is nonetheless a welcome addition to the portfolio.