Blowing Warm

Jul 7, 1999 at 12:00 am

The liner notes to this disc refer to it as a "jam session," a phrase that brings to mind quickly cobbled head arrangements followed by marathon soloing, which is pretty much the opposite of what we have here. True, improvisation’s the thing on this set and the original compositions have that "hum at your own risk" quality so common to contempo jazz, but the solos never go on beyond that first burst of engaged inspiration and the tunes are meaty thematic material rather than tossed-off gewgaws.

Tenor saxophonist Lovano – doubling here on flute and soprano – still strikes me as the Lon Chaney of fin-de-siècle jazz, changing his musical face as the role requires. But some of his takes here are irresistible, as on the cover of "Monk’s Mood" where he adapts a tone so breathy you can hear his keypads hitting the stops and his delicate, fluid phrasing gets inside Monk’s elusively wry sadness; or the action painter approach he takes on Osby’s "Geo J Lo," darting through the piece with a slightly mewling intonation.

Alto saxophonist Osby (doubling on soprano) has a more singular voice, one that nudges at the edges of a song’s harmonics without sacrificing an essential lyricism, pushing his narrative to a crisis just before slipping back to safer ground. The rhythm section consists of the never dull Jackie Moran on piano, who plays in a sort of pastoral-intense style, impressionistic but muscular; bassist Cameron Brown, who has a very tasty high-end articulation; and drummer Idris Muhammad, a first-rate colorist who manages to sustain interest throughout an 11-minute suite-like feature. An inspired set, all around.