An ambitious explorer of “cool”

Boston Globe, November 24, 2006

Joe Lovano is everything all at once: renowned saxophonist, Berklee College of Music professor, stalwart of the New York jazz scene, and prolific music maker whose recent albums as a leader include trio, quartet, and nonet work, and even a program of songs from the opera great Enrico Caruso.

Lovano’s newest album, “Streams of Expression,” is as ambitious as any he’s made. It interlocks a new interpretation of the seminal Miles Davis work “Birth of the Cool” by composer Gunther Schuller (who as a young French horn player actually took part in the 1949 Davis recording) with a Lovano suite, “Streams of Expression,” that journeys from pre-bop swing to the wild, honking dissonance of post-Coltrane free jazz and back again. Lovano just returned from a long European tour; we checked in with him in advance of his Tuesday performance at Scullers to benefit the new jazz promotion and education group JazzBoston.

Q. What group are you coming with next week and what’s on the menu?

A. I’m coming with my quartet: James Weidman [on piano], Esperanza Spaulding on bass, and Francisco Mela on drums. We’re doing things from “Streams of Expressions” as well as from my last couple of quartet records with Hank Jones, and from [the recording] “Viva Caruso.”

Q. What’s the creative agenda of “Streams of Expression”?

A. Originally Gunther Schuller wrote the “Birth of the Cool” suite as a commission by the Monterey Jazz Festival to celebrate Miles Davis’s 75th anniversary. So he had this amazing suite, really different from the original “Birth of the Cool” sound. We had this piece of ensemble music, and I wrote my “Streams of Expression” suite. I was trying to answer the question of what “Birth of the Cool” gave birth to, in myself and in all the players. That was the form and outline of the recording.

Q. And what’s the answer to that question?

A. It’s not in words, it’s in the music. It’s all the musicians that it influenced. Mingus, Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp … you name these names and you feel these spirits.

Q. The album feels like it rejects the distinction between “out” and “in” jazz. The emphasis seems to be on what is common to all improvisational music.

A. It is. What we call “in” was what people said at the time was out. Charlie Parker was out. Dizzy Gillespie was out. Personalities and players are what shapes the music, the collective improvisation and the ways of creating music.

Q. You’ve worked before with Schuller, but how do you introduce him, and this material, to a new listener?

A. By having the opportunity to record some of that music and have someone like [Blue Note Records president] Bruce Lundvall support my projects. Going on tour: We just did 16 concerts in Europe, a lot of festivals. Nobody’s really heard live some of that music, only on recordings. And it’s incredible to sit in an ensemble and play with these warm feelings around you. That music was only played live a few times. Some younger listeners have never heard it at all.

Q. On the recording, you play a new instrument called the Aulochrome, which is a sort of combination of two soprano saxophones. We don’t often hear new instruments nowadays.

A. It’s an amazing instrument. It’s the first polyphonic woodwind, and you can actually play it. The horn took [inventor Francois Louis] five years to make. And that’s the only horn; he’s trying to get it manufactured now. I played it in Amsterdam, but he has it now. He’s bringing it back to New York in January.

Q. You teach at Berklee, and jazz education is part of the agenda of JazzBoston, the new group that you’re advising. You’ve got video liner notes for this album online, featuring footage from the studio; is that one way to reach and build the jazz audience?

A. It’s definitely a good way to let a younger audience see the relationships as they build in the studio, and the players; that’s fantastic, man. And for young musicians: You know, musicians really study each other, and something like that is great to show that it’s not all academic, how carefree and creative the process is.