Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Recorded live at Newport Jazz Festival in 2005 with Hank Jones, George Mraz and Lewis Nash, Classic: Live at Newport, is Joe Lovano's final recording for Blue Note. Wrapping up a storied career, it's his 20th Blue Note album as leader and his 25th overall. The album release will coincide with Joe's appearance at this year's Newport Jazz Festival. Classic is self-produced by Joe, and was mixed and mastered by Kurt Lundvall, the son of longtime Blue Note leader Bruce Lundvall.
Joe Lovano is part of a select group of established musicians who have been around for so long, achieved so much, and have such an instantly recognizable sound, that a new release is more or less guaranteed to be good. And so it is with Classic! Live at Newport -- everybody knows what to expect but that doesn't in any way diminish the enjoyment of listening to it.
This is another welcome offering from the Lovano quartet featuring the late, great Hank Jones. He passed away in 2010, five years after this album was recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival, but what we're left with is a collaboration between Jones and Lovano that gave us the Blue Note albums I'm All for You -- the title track of which finds its way into this live set -- and the superb Joyous Encounter, as well as the duo record Kids: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. Classic! follows the May 2005 recording of Joyous Encounter, and the quartet had been busy touring Europe with journeyman drummer Lewis Nash replacing Paul Motian. Nash colors the quartet in a different way than Motian, but it's not unwelcome. Motian had an unparalleled ability to see the drum kit's role in the small ensemble -- it could almost be described as impressionistic -- whereas Lewis Nash is more at home swinging hard. That's not to say Classic! is missing something -- the other bandmembers thrive just as happily on hard-grooving time players.
The level of attentiveness in the quartet is as captivating as you might expect if you're familiar with their work. As evidenced on the Lovano-penned "I'm All for You," over the changes of "Body and Soul," Lovano's tonal fragility leaves you feeling like his melodic phrases might collapse or lose time, but they never do. Jones' comping follows and guides the intensity of the band, suggesting rhythmic interplay or harmonic substitutions mid-tune, devices that drummer Nash or bassist George Mraz are only too happy to embellish. It's worth noting that Hank Jones was 87 at the time of recording, yet his touch, his attentiveness, and his creativity were still clearly at a level that would drive many a younger pianist back to the practice room.
Lovano gives us a typically robust display of mastery across all six tracks. Technically brilliant, his trademark phrases weaving in and out of the harmony somehow sound frail and immense at the same time. His solo on "Bird's Eye View," another track from the Joyous Encounter album, is up there with his best. The intensity is encouraged by Jones, and Lovano happily rises to it, screaming in the high register and provoking reactions from the ever-swinging Nash and Mraz.
Lovano set the bar so high with releases such as Trio Fascination, On this Day, and the cuts previously mentioned, and this live recording is on that level. Hank Jones is no longer with us, meaning this is the last offering of that beautiful collaboration, but we can take comfort in the fact that he lives on through his lasting influence on Joe Lovano. In the sax player's own words, "His accompaniment and solos were full of love, poetry and searching.His wisdom and knowledge about music and life, his humor, wit, passion and love will always inspire and be with me." ~ Simon Spreyer