October 2001

Joe Lovano - Flights of Fancy, Trio Fascination Vol.2
Blue Note Records 7243 5 27648 2 1
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]What do you get when you combine a tenor sax with straight alto, C-melody and soprano saxes, alto and bass clarinet, piano, harmonica, gongs, percussion and drums? Answer: An inkling of the possibilities of just what three musicians can accomplish.

Yeah, you heard me right, three musicians: ergo, a trio. On this album we get to hear Lovano play in four diverse trio groupings, using various and sundry instrumental setups to create a most fascinating musical experience. Oh, and before you begin to jump out of your cushy listening chair screaming "overdubbing," or "studio mixing board manipulation," or some other such drivel, be forewarned. According to Lovano, these tracks were laid down in just four sessions (comprising 16 1/2 hours) spread over two days, by engineer James Farber, direct to two-track analog (then mastered by Greg Calbi). You ain’t gonna to get much closer to purist audiophile recording standards than that, my friends.

Four teams are at work here: Cameron Brown (bass) and Idris Muhammad (drums); Billy Drewes (soprano sax, alto flute, percussion) and Joey Baron (drums); Toots Thieleman (harmonica) and Kenny Werner (piano); and Mark Dresser (bass) and Dave Douglas (trumpet). Lovano contributes tenor, straight alto, C-melody or soprano saxes, alto and bass clarinets, gongs, percussion or drums on the various tracks. These four different combos, playing in what amounts to 11 differing trio settings, romp through 14 tunes (8 written by Lovano himself) of varying tempos. This diversity helps keep the music fresh.

The direct-to-two-track analog recording presents us with a wide soundstage. You’re given Lovano to your listening left, the bass (or piano) in the center, and whoever else is playing to the right. This setup gives a real sense of three musicians standing before you, creating music in your listening room, especially as the instruments all tend to sound as they should. There is good depth too, although ambience is somewhat lacking (always a digital bug-a-boo).

Joe Lovano is to the new Blue Note what Art Blakey was to the original, Alfred Lion-owned label: an artist able to record whatever he wants (within reason), whenever he wants, with whomever he wants. This freedom allows him to follow his musical muse wherever it chooses to lead him at any given moment. On Flights Of Fancy, said muse has led him once again down the trio path to the creation of another winning album. It’s truly amazing just how many variations Lovano can find within what would seem to be an extremely limited trio setting. I, for one, will be looking forward to the prospect of a third volume to this series sometime down the road. But whether or not Lovano has that next installment within him, we should all be grateful for this disc.