Joe Lovano and Michael Wolff Unveil New Trios, Among Other Highlights in Take Five

Jan 14, 2019

Joe Lovano, “Rare Beauty”

For anyone who has followed the career of saxophonist Joe Lovano, it might be hard to believe he’s never released an album for ECM Records. Yes, he’s a longtime Blue Note artist whose most recent release — by Sound Prints, the quintet he leads with trumpeter Dave Douglas — can be found on Douglas’ label, Greenleaf Music.

But Lovano has been a vital presence within the ECM ecosystem for more than 35 years, on albums by drummer Paul Motian and others. (A couple of those were credited to “Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell.”) He’s finally about to have an ECM title solely under his own name: Trio Tapestry, which the label will release on Jan. 25.

The album features a new band with pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi, who come with some pertinent history. Crispell is a veteran ECM artist who, like Lovano, had a deep musical connection with Motian. And Castaldi has been a compatriot of Lovano’s since their teenage years in Cleveland; they matriculated the same year at the Berklee School of Music. All of which informs the intimate character of the music on Trio Tapestry, which Lovano composed with attunement to 12-tone techniques.

The music on this album is shadowy and supple, designed to drift according to the slightest gesture by any one of the musicians. That art of implication is fully evident on “Rare Beauty,” which has its premiere here.

Beginning with a soft rumble of Castaldi’s toms, the piece eases into a melodic line that Lovano and Crispell play together in a free-flowing rubato. It’s very much in tune with the style that Lovano and Crispell each favored in trios with Motian. (It also bears a relationship to the lyricism of Ornette Coleman  – which likely explains the title, with its echo of “Beauty is a Rare Thing.”) And the pliable cohesion on display underscores how much this is a collective achievement.

Trio Tapestry will be available on Jan. 25; preorder here. Lovano’s new trio will perform at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, N.Y., on Jan. 27. And Jazz Night in America just spent some time with Lovano in Cleveland, for a radio episode that will broadcast in the spring.

Michael Wolff Trio, “Allison”

Around this time last year, pianist Michael Wolff brought his trio to the Yamaha Salon in midtown Manhattan, for a concert presented by WBGO. Wolff and his intuitive partners, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Allan Mednard, had previously appeared on a Yamaha Salon concert in honor of Erroll Garner — but this time they were the sole attraction, recording new music for a future release. Swirl, the resulting album, was produced by Wolff and WBGO’s John Newcott, and will be available on Sunnyside on Jan. 25.

“Allison,” the album’s sparkling opening track, is a co-creation of Wolff and its namesake (first name Ben). Its buoyant groove and ringing melody recall the classic Ahmad Jamal Trio, without outright imitation. Elsewhere on the album, there are songbook ballads (“Angel Eyes”) and syncopated swingers (“Metairie”) — along with moments that wryly acknowledge a harrowing battle with cancer, which Wolf has thankfully put behind him.

“My view of life, art and music has changed, developed, matured, widened and focused simultaneously,” Wolff attests in a press statement for the album. “I savor every day, every view, every person I love and every note I can play and hear.” 

Swirl will be released on Jan. 25; preorder here. And stay tuned: Michael Wolff will join Gary Walker on Morning Jazz later this month.

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade, “The Contender”

Greg Ward is a Chicago-based alto saxophonist who knows how to reconcile different elements: acoustic and electronic, precise and volatile, inside and “out.” He has an arresting new album, Stomping Off From Greenwood, that brings this gift into clear focus, with a batch of new compositions for the band he calls Rogue Parade.


The album, just out on Greenleaf Music, marks a clear forward step for Ward as a composer and bandleader: it’s a collection of tunes that add up to a compelling arc, without requiring any high concept or explanatory hook. The band — guitarists Matt Gold and Dave Miller, bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Quin Kirchner — attacks every tune as a worthy challenge, including the track above, “The Contender,” whose title would seem to carry an obvious connotation.

For more information about Greg Ward, visit his website.

Christoph Irniger Pilgrim, “Point of View”

Crosswinds is the transfixing new album by Christoph Irniger, a tenor saxophonist with a deep-focus and nimble style. It’s the fourth release by Pilgrim, a band of Swiss improvisers conversant in every facet of modern jazz. Consider the range of expression in this piece alone, an Irniger original called “Point of View.”

Opening with a smart peekaboo snarl, as if in distant homage to the early work of Tim Berne, the composition yields first to a piano solo by Stefan Aeby, who’s the picture of flowing articulacy. The band swerves into a left turn around 2:30, and then seems to dissolve into echoing abstraction, mainly via guitarist Dave Gisler.

You could easily mistake that for a coda, but it’s actually a bridge — to a plaintive melodic passage that highlights Irniger’s affinities for the American tenor Mark Turner, among other things. At around 6:00, a quiet yet persistent ostinato begins to bubble up, courtesy of Raffaele Bossard’s bass and Michael Stulz’s drums. There’s so much going on here, but nothing that feels indulgent or out of place.

Crosswinds will be released on Intakt Records on Friday; preorder here.

Keiko Matsui Featuring Gretchen Parlato, “Spirit Dance”

An irrepressible force in contemporary jazz and new age for more than 30 years, keyboardist Keiko Matsui has a new studio album, Echo, due out on Shanachie Entertainment on Feb. 22. Along with the trusted members of her band, it features an array of guest contributors, like saxophonist Kirk Whalum, bassists Marcus Miller and Kyle Eastwood — and vocalist Gretchen Parlato, who appears here.

Matsui originally wrote this composition strictly for her band. But as its lilting Brazilian character emerged, she quickly thought of Parlato, whom she had met on a jazz cruise. “I was familiar with her use of voice as percussion, and the chorus section of this song seemed really made for her,” Matsui says in a press statement. The finished result makes fine use of that skill, opening on Parlato’s multitracked vocals before the band locks smoothly into gear.

For more information about Keiko Matsui, visit her website.