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This review is from: Bird Songs (Audio CD)
Having caught this group live (albeit with a change to the bassist) I was fascinated by the manner in which the two drummers intacted with each other. At times, the chemistry between the two musicians was mesmerising and it was difficult not to be pulled in to the fascinating rythmic complexity at the expense of the soloists. Lovano has always been on the money and the shear class he exhibited during the gig comes through in abundance of this disc which is made up of Charlie Parker compositions. So, whilst the presence of two drummers might suggest a tasteless JATP - style drum fest, the reality is akin to a drummer plus percussionist with multiple rhythms laying a rock-solid foundation for some of the most strudent playing I have heard from the leader in a long while. Whilst naturally not quite as free-booting as a live experience, this is a very exciting record.
There have probably been few jazz musicians whose style of composition was rooted so heavily in the vocabulary of their improvised lines as Charlie Parker and given that nearly seventy years have elapsed since "Bird" first emerged on the scene, now more than ever the ability to make something contemporary out of this material becomes a greater challenge as Bebop slips increasingly backwards into jazz's history. On this record, Lovano's approach is pretty radical with lines such as "Donna Lee" slowed down considerably so almost to create a new composition and "Moose the mooche" under-pinned by a motif from the pianist that echoes the last phrases bars of this melody. The best tracks are those where Joe Lovano is most uninhibited and numbers where there is plenty of grit in the playing like "Barbados", "Moose the mooche" and "Passport" are the ones that stand out. The track with the Aulochrome offers some of the most radical playing on this CD and will shock purists even if it really made me sit up a listen - not just because this instrument allowed Lovano to play harmonised solos himself but for the manner in which he chops his phrasing up. Only "Ko-ko" doesn't quite measure up as Lovano improvises on the opening motif of the original recording and eschews the opportunity to blow on the chord changes of "Cherokee." Given that the other Parker compositions on this disc are either blues or based upon the changes of well-worn standards, tackling this material does run the risk of sounding anachronistic as most jazz post 1960's employs more complex ideas for the basis of improvisation. On this disc, the beautiful lines of Parker's melodies are re-cast by Lovano in a fashion that is thoroughly contemporary and the employment of the two drummers to trample down the structure of this music definately assists in giving Lovano a much freer reign to reinterpret this music. It is almost like the kind of approach late era Coltrane might have employed had he decided to tackle Bird's music despite the fact that the way Lovano stacks his phrases one on top of the other very much reminded me of another giant, Sonny Rollins.
In summary, "Bird songs" pitches the music slap bang in to the 21st Century and illustrates just how effectively music from the 1940's can be re-imagined in a fashion that is totally fresh. It is difficult to judge whether this is one of Lovano's best records as he is so consistent but if his work with the late Hank Jones offered a more traditional and restrained side of his playing, this is the polar opposite with some extremely committed playing on it. Granted that the bass and piano are somewhat relegated in the scale of things to the leader and his two percussionists, this is still the best record of 2011 so far. This has been played in my car constantly over the last few weeks. Recommended.