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Joe Lovano's Fresh, Unbridled 'Language'


Gushes of spontaneity characterize the music of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, and nowhere is that unbridled free spirit more evident than in the acclaimed saxophonist's just-released Blue Note recording "Universal Language."

The fresh-sounding and tuneful Lovano originals on this recording have harmonic structures. But those foundations seem to be made of soft plastic rather than hardened steel as Lovano and his band prod and distort these forms with a gleeful spontaneity.

"Each tune has its own flavor," says Lovano, who plays tenor, soprano and alto saxophone, clarinet and wooden flute on the session. "Larger ensemble parts might lead to passages played by an intimate duo or trio. Some pieces have melodies at the beginning that are heard as backgrounds later, and we also made up some backgrounds and inner voices as we were playing."

Still, the melodic thrust that is at the heart of jazz is never abandoned in favor of freedom.

"The idea is to improvise, playing melodies and variations of melodies, moving from note to note at will, and create the form as you're playing," says the New York-based Lovano, whose album spotlights his wife, Judy Silvano, on vocals, Tim Hagans on trumpet, Kenny Werner on piano, Charlie Haden and Steve Swallow on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

Lovano, who is leaving John Scofield's quartet after a three-year association to pursue his own projects, is currently a busy player. On Sunday, he finishes up a week's engagement at New York's Village Vanguard with the New York-Paris Quartet, an ensemble formed in 1986 that also features pianist Werner, bassist Henri Texier and drummer Aldo Romano.

Next month Lovano records a two-tenor album with Joshua Redman. "That'll be a real improvising date, with some classic sax music," he says. In September, Lovano tours with a quartet spotlighting trumpet great Tom Harrell and, in October, he goes on the road to play the music from "Universal Language."

Ambassador Redux: A broad musical menu sparks the third Pasadena Jazz Festival, which takes place Aug. 7-8 at Ambassador Auditorium. A "Brazilian Spectacular," with Dori Caymmi, Ivan Lins and Ricardo Silveira, kicks the affair off on Aug. 7, while keyboardists Dave and Don Grusin, singer Diane Schuur, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and reedman Ken Peplowski highlight two shows on Aug. 8. Information: (818) 304-6161.

Critic's Choice: Bassist Ray Brown's trio, which plays Sunday at Wheeler Hot Springs in Ojai and Tuesday through next Sunday at Catalina Bar & Grill, is one of modern music's finest. The group is highlighted by pianist Benny Green, whose singular mix of blues and be-bop is all but irresistable, while Brown, who solos with wit and poise, and drum ace Jeff Hamilton provide succulent rhythmic support.

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