Flights of Fancy
(Blue Note – 2001)
by John Barrett
The sax trio is an interesting format: with the rhythm section smaller than normal, the horn tends to play more, and play with passion. In his second album devoted to this theme, Joe Lovano uses four different trios – each with different instrumentation and different dynamics. In a group with bass and drums (Cameron Brown, Idris Muhammad), Lovano leaps around, with funky tone and restless ideas. His fast spirals on “Flights of Fancy” approach the style of Coltrane; “Bougainvilla” takes a happy bounce, with a happy-sounding alto. (For just a moment he sounds like Paul Desmond, and that is special.) “Hot Shot” is a simple theme varied endlessly (Idris has a fine drum solo), Tyner’s “Aisha” takes a slow, thoughtful journey, and a reprise of “Fancy” sounds tentative, as Lovano takes moody steps. With its sad tunes and whispering brushes, this group sounds like a steady rain – lonely and grey, but full of atmosphere.
Two different trios use a front line of two horns, dueling against a solitary percussionist. Joey Baron fills that role in “Off and Runnin'”: his cymbals start with precision, then take off with arrhythmic bursts. Joe yawns a little on this one; Billy Drewes answers with speed, charging ever higher on his soprano. Elusive of theme, the tune has no clear destination … but gets there with vigor. “Windom Street” has a feel Chico Hamilton would be proud of: purring flute (Drewes), busy bass clarinet (Lovano), and quiet mallets in the background. Joe has the better solo, groaning fierce like a tenor – and then weeping with eloquence. They all ring bells on “Blue Mist”, forming textures for Joe’s soprano to glide over; this horn suddenly becomes a clarinet, as the bass trio returns.
Another group has Mark Dresser’s bass and the trumpet of Dave Douglas: they harmonize on “Amsterdam”, moving together in beautiful lines. After Dresser pops a strong solo, Douglas ascends – soft, intricate, and compelling. Joe mans the drums for “206” (the mood is like “Flights”, only with a trumpet) and angular phrases mark “Amber”, all somber and academic. To a remarkable degree, Joe adjusts his style to those around him. And that makes us eager to hear the NEXT group…
The only trio using a piano finds Kenny Werner at the keyboard, and the late Toots Thielemans on the tin sandwich. On “I Remember April”, Joe and Toots copy each other’s phrases, each sounding happy in their exploration. Werner’s solo is acidic, playing the “wrong” chords in a way that sounds right. “Infant Eyes” is a study in parallel lines – Lovano is breathy and warm, Thielemans high and pure. His tumbling solo inspires Joe’s, which grows to the level of Coltrane. “Giant Steps”, however, avoids that comparison: Werner hints the famous chords as the others meander, going fast but not really going anywhere. In midstream we return to the first trio; nothing remains of the tune but its competitive nature. Now Joe goes racing, squealing at the top of the tenor – Muhammad covers him with rhythm. This one ends abruptly, but the spirit continues – Joe Lovano’s fascination with the trio format equals ours … at least.