Joe Lovano Moves on to the Next Chapter

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Famously hands-on in his approach toward tweaking in-studio musical flow and then sequencing the finished product, Eicher diverges in approach from Blue Note head Bruce Lundvall (1935–2015), who gave Lovano free rein to mix, master and produce his own recordings. Lovano and Eicher have maintained a “beautiful rapport,” the saxophonist said, since 1981, when he played on Motian’s Psalm, with Bill Frisell on guitar, Billy Drewes on alto saxophone and Ed Schuller on bass. Lovano went on to record multiple albums with the Paul Motian Trio—including It Should’ve Happened A Long Time Ago (1985), I Have The Room Above Her (2005) and Time And Time Again (2007)—and appear on other ECM releases, such as pianist Steve Kuhn’s Mostly Coltrane (2009), guitarist John Abercrombie’s Within A Song (2012) and bassist Marc Johnson’s Swept Away (2012).

“From the first recording with Paul, I realized Joe was a very lyrical player, who paid a lot of attention to tone quality and phrasing, and was a great listener,” Eicher said. “There was real dialogue and interaction in the trio based on Paul’s beautiful and simple melodies, and it was also significant as a sound sculpture. I thought this was music ahead of its time.

“I kept in touch with what Joe was doing as he broadened out and went into different projects. In 2000, he made the record Nocturne with Charlie Haden and Gonzalo Rubalcaba on which his lyrical approach came through, and there was once a plan to do fantastic unrecorded compositions by Keith Jarrett with Keith’s trio, with Joe and Tom Harrell, though for various reasons it didn’t happen. Through the years, we met in airports or lobbies, and always said, ‘Let’s do something.’”

Then Lovano and Eicher intersected at the 2014 NEA Jazz Master Awards, where Jarrett was an honoree, leading Lovano—whose Blue Note studio album, Cross Culture, recorded with Us Five, recently had been released—to “feel like something could happen” with regard to recording as a leader for ECM.

“It was time to move on to something else,” Lovano explained. “Bruce’s health was failing, and the label was going in other directions, so I felt it was a good moment.”

Lovano began to explore the concepts discussed above in separate interactions with Crispell and Castaldi, culminating in July 2017 in Newburgh, New York, with a mostly scratch-improvised trio concert on which Lovano played tenor saxophone, alto clarinet, straight alto saxophone and mezzo soprano saxophone. “I wanted the trio flow to have a larger picture somehow,” Lovano said. “Each time I switched horns, the trio was different in personality and in the tonal timbres. Marilyn plays with a beautiful sound, and improvises with touch and dynamics in a way that isn’t stylistic. It’s pure music, as is Carmen’s approach on the drums. So, the orchestration and sense of flow, the way we can take a simple theme and turn it into a tapestry of episodes, is very reminiscent of the trio with Paul and Bill.”

Soon thereafter, Eicher recalled, Lovano called “to say he would like to maybe start something different, and asked whether we were interested. I said, ‘Yes, but let’s find out what it would be. Let’s start with a simple project. When Joe told me he had a concert with Marilyn, I said, ‘OK, send me a tape and let me hear how it sounds.’ He did so. I called back, and said, ‘Yes, let’s go in the studio and try to do some music.’”

With the prospective recording in view, Lovano started to write “specific little springboards for us to play off of and interpret,” 17 themes in all. After the session at New York’s Sear Sound, which Eicher attended, producer and artist culled 11 tracks. “Manfred’s idea was to focus on the length of an LP, for a 45-minute picture,” Lovano said. “Six other pieces touched other energy, different attitudes, let’s say, in the way we played.”

Eicher previously had worked with Crispell on six leader or co-leader albums, but never with Castaldi, whose aesthetic connection to Motian’s spacious time-feel and ability to weave “little sounds and gongs and bells” into his flow seemed to Eicher “very familiar.”

“I had a lot of affinity for this music from the very beginning,” Eicher said. “But I had no concept in mind. Joe brought the music, and we made different takes, with different pulsations, different chords, with me as a fourth listener. It was an improvisational approach. The music told us what to do.”

During post-production, as they worked on the mix, Eicher continued, “we realized it’s maybe more of a lyrical album and an approach of chamber music; in the final sequence it became a record of sound quality and tone quality and storytelling. It’s like going to the past, listening to Paul Bley with the Jimmy Giuffre Trio and things like this—people listening to each other. Perhaps it became a little bit different shape than Joe had planned.”

In fact, Lovano said, Trio Tapestry sounds “exactly the way I felt it would come out. Manfred’s participation involved shaping the way we were playing and the way we were living in the music. His input was beautiful, because that’s where he’s at as well.”

Lovano’s versatility has been a hallmark of his career. “I’ve always lived in different camps of the music,” he said in an interview years ago, “to be very free with ‘inside’ approaches and to be really in there on freer music, what they call ‘outside.’” In the liner notes for Trio Tapestry, Lovano explicitly traces his inspirations for the approach invoked on the album to his formative years in Cleveland.

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