Song and Dance, from Joe Lovano Quartets, Live at the Village Vanguard, 1994
All of Joe Lovano’s early dates for Blue Note were pretty special, but this one stands out for me. Maybe it’s the venue – that Village Vanguard vibe – or the live recording. Joe has made too few recordings out of the studio, I reckon.
Then there’s the personnel. Both of these twin CDs had great players, but I tend to go back to the freer-wheeling quartet on the first, recorded on a single night in 1994 (already 27 years ago: how did that happen?). Billy Hart on drums is spectacular, and wonderfully well recorded and balanced. Anthony Cox, who we heard less of later in his career when he seemed to turn more to teaching, I got to know on what I think of as Joe’s breakthrough recording, the aptly named Sounds of Joy in’91 with Ed Blackwell: Joe likes strong drummers.This date was more like that than the other live quartet date (with Mulgrew Miller et al): more Lovano compositions, less straight ahead playing.
Then there’s Tom Harrell, a marvellous improviser and a match for Lovano in every way, as he shows when they interweave on the opener, Lovano’s catchy Fort Worth. His rich, keening trumpet and flugelhorn sound is also more often heard in slightly more obviously boppish settings (he came up with Horace Silver and Phil Woods after all). He and Joe had already played on one another’s earlier albums, and he responds brilliantly to the slightly more open approach of this band.
The results make one wish this quartet had secured a longer life than (I suspect) a single engagement at the Vanguard. Imagine if they had stayed together for a year or two, and toured. A couple of the Lovano compositions, it occurs to me now, are as close to the sound of Old and New Dreams as anyone got after that incomparable group disbanded. This, which closes the CD, is one of them.
That’s about the lolloping theme, the way all four work together, responding continually to each other – but especially about the way the drums aerate the sound, and – on this one – the way the two horns work together. They solo separately, Lovano first, all bustle and attack, Harrell following with a determined effort to deliver a motivic improvisation, Hart and Cox following every twist and turn. Cox shows his class in his own solo, then the horns play us out.
Like the other piece in this vein, Uprising, it’s almost as good as the old and new dreamers. If the players don’t quite rise to Ornette Coleman levels of inspiration, as the players in that band almost always did, they come close. Imagine what they could have done if they’d had a lot more hours together on the bandstand…
Why the No 36? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.
There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify.
(Vanguard pix from CD inlay by Jimmy Katz)