There’s no keeping Joe Lovano idle on the recording front. After nearly three decades as the preeminent star on Blue Note Records, the tenor saxophonist has found a new home at ECM Records as a leader with Trio Tapestry, a sensitively lyrical interplay with pianist Marilyn Crispell and his longtime colleague drummer Carmen Castaldi.
It’s Lovano’s first studio outing since 2013’s Cross Culture with his Us Five band on Blue Note and inarguably an innovative new turn in his career. As he writes in the album’s liner notes: “The everyday series of episodes takes us to some unexpected faraway places in the 12-tone mystical, sparkling, dazzling lights of sound that inspire us to create.”
Jazz’s reigning tenor saxophone titan, Lovano has history with ECM, beginning in the early ‘80s as a member of drummer Paul Motian’s trio that later included two trio masterpieces with guitarist Bill Frisell: 2004’s I Have the Room Above Her and 2006’s Time and Time Again. He also made significant contributions to ECM recordings by guitarist John Abercrombie (1998 and 2012), bassist Marc Johnson (2005, 2012) and pianist Steve Kuhn (2008), all of which came with the blessing of Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, who signed Lovano in 1990 and oversaw more than two dozen albums by the creative whom he called “one of my best signings.”
In its entirety, the album shines as a date of mystical, meditative and spirited embellishments. On the eve of Lovano’s 66th birthday (29 December), he talked with Qwest TV about his distinctive new album and speculation about his future projects.
What led to your connection to Manfred Eicher at ECM?
We’d been in touch a little bit over the years since I recorded on the albums by Paul Motian and others. Then more recently I was at Jazz at Lincoln Center for the 2014 Jazz Masters Concert commemorating the award winners that year that included Anthony Braxton, Richard Davis and Keith Jarrett who has recorded lots of albums over the years for ECM. Manfred attended, and we all hung out and I was feeling the vibes from him. Plus, he came to the tribute concert earlier this year for John Abercrombie at the Roulette in Brooklyn. So, when I played in a different kind of trio with Marilyn, who has ECM history, and Carmen Castaldo at The Falcon in upstate New York, I made a tape of the show where we were all improvising. I sent Manfred a 15-minute cut of the session. He embraced the idea of the trio.
What was it like working with him as your producer?
He’s a genius in the studio and a great engineer. He hears the details of improvised music. He hears the forms and structure. He’s at the controls during the recording, and he does these subtle things. So, when you listen to the playback, it’s like the record is done. He’s so passionately involved in the process. He also makes suggestions which is how he asked Marilyn to do a solo improvisation. It was a new episode following my script that went into a different direction. It felt so natural the way Manfred was seeing the big picture..
This album sounds so much different than all your other albums. There’s a soulful sensitivity and a lyrical expression without a lot of full blowing your saxophone. You’ve said that this is some of the most intimate and personal music that you’ve recorded. How were these sessions different?
I wrote all the compositions specifically with a 12-tone concept in mind. I wanted to have all three of us improvising with different tonalities. In the last ten years of his life, I spent time sitting in with Ornette [Coleman} in his space and got involved with his theory of harmolodics. He gave me a lot of ideas about making a tapestry of melody, harmony and rhythms. I wrote most of these pieces when I was on the road. It’s all about stating a melody and then letting things come together. I call each of the tunes episodes. Today’s scene is so aggressive and overdone that I wanted to make a recording of beauty, love, passion. I wanted to make a record that was personal—not just a jazz record, but music about expression.
This could be your shortest recording, less than 50 minutes long. Why so?
That was Manfred’s idea to make this album like an LP, with a different flow of episodes on each side. In post-production, Manfred decided to make it LP length and not 68-70 minutes long. So, it comes out more like a beautiful concert set. We recorded 17 ideas, so there are the leftovers still in the can that didn’t make the final cut.
What’s also unusual is your solo episode with gongs that ends Side 1.
I’ve been experiencing with playing gongs since my first album, but this was different. I scored out the piece and did multiple takes that were built on tonalities. This was not an improvisation. I practiced it at home with gong hits specific to 11or 12 different instruments. I was looking to harmonize with the gongs. I played it for the first time in three takes at the recording session. It was like a mediation.
You had a long run with Bruce Lundvall at Blue Note. He told me that he’d invite you for lunch and that you ate five courses and had 15 new ideas. He told me he could never say no to you. In light of that, do you foresee more ECM recordings in the future?
Well, that was Bruce, always exaggerating. But my experience with him was amazing and will be with me forever. He let me establish four different bands. At ECM there’s nothing solid yet, but Manfred and I have been talking about some ideas to keep the relationship going and maybe for me to have a home place again. I’m into expressing ideas and putting different bands together. ECM would be a great place for being able to do that.
Joe Lovano, Trio Tapestry (ECM)