Interestingly enough, Streams of Expression grew from an idea of five years ago, when the Monterey Jazz Festival commissioned Lovano to create a seventy-fifth birthday tribute to Miles Davis. However, the shock of 9/11, which occurred just before the event, prevented the premiere performance of "The Birth of the Cool Suite." More’s the pity, for Lovano had assembled his nonet for the event, and this astounding suite had been composed with the invaluable assistance of Gunther Schuller, who participated in the original 1949 "Birth of the Cool" session. The postponement of "The Birth of the Cool Suite’s" first public performance was just as well. Plans are under way to celebrate Davis’s eightieth birthday this year with a constellation of related events, including CD releases, a movie and a book. "The Birth of the Cool Suite" is yet another significant event in this, the year of Miles Davis commemorations. Schuller’s comments in the liner notes explain his thoughts in reworking the suite, to which he adds connective movements of prelude, postlude and two interludes consisting of motives from the suite itself. Even though Lee Konitz played soprano sax on the original Miles Davis recording, Schuller adapted "Moon Beams," "Move" and "Boplicity" to support the warm tone of Lovano’s tenor sax. And Schuller loosened the arrangements to allow for the musicians’ individual expression, particularly on "Move," on which Lovano, saxophonist Steve Slagle, pianist James Weidman and trumpeter Barry Ries solo.
From that single suite an entire album grew. For Lovano expanded upon his original concept of honoring his influences, widely diverse though they may be. (Such diversity may account for the unpredictability of Lovano’s recording styles). One of those influences was Schuller himself, an incontestably pre-eminent figure in Third Stream jazz with whom Lovano collaborated on his award-winning album, Rush Hour. As a result, the "Streams of Expression" suite kicks off the album with its first movement, "Streams," which, through its complex catalyzing of musical genres within the overriding description as jazz, delves quickly into the swirling mixture as a signal of the originality-arising-from-tradition to follow. The "Streams of Expression" suite’s second movement, "Cool," dedicated to the legendary Davis/Evans collaborations, presages, and actually eases into, "The Birth of the Cool Suite." Each member of the nonet already had been presented on "Cool" as they individually elaborate upon "Cool’s" ten-measure structure.
Lovano’s "Streams of Expression" suite continues, but not consecutively. Rather, the "Streams of Expression" suite bookends the "The Birth of the Cool Suite" and the two middle additional tracks. (Parts I and II of the suite appear at the beginning; Parts III, IV and V, at the end). The suite’s thematic progression moves to cover the advancement of jazz from the late forties, including the alto clarinet trio dedication to Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus ("Enchantment") and Lovano’s indebtedness to the avant-garde movement ("The Fire Prophets"), personified by saxophonists like Albert Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders, among others.
On the new compositions like "Blue Sketches," Lovano , though incorporating fragments of "So What" and "Impressions," creates an entirely new work by means of pure improvisation, spurred solely by Dennis Irwin’s bass work and Lewis Nash’s shifting, responsive rhythms. The result is truly a sketch, impressionistic and subject to continuing development.
Interestingly, even as he honors past thinking-out-of-the-box reedmen like Rahsaan Roland Kirk or Archie Shepp on "The Fire Prophets" and "Big Ben," Lovano thinks out of the box as well by introducing a new instrument to express the streams of ideas he adopts as aural reminders of their work. The Aulochrome is a new invention combining what appears to be two soprano saxophones with synchronized keys, allowing the same notes to be played on two pipes at the same time or letting Lovano detach the synchronous feature for two-part harmonic simultaneity (similar to what Kirk was doing 40 years ago with two or more saxophones). A photograph in the liner notes shows Lovano playing this unique instrument.
And so, from the genesis of a commissioned project triggered by a specific occasion, Lovano seized upon the opportunity to enlarge his vision, encompassing a spectrum of jazz styles within the confines of a single CD. He even alters the sonority of jazz with previously unheard instrumentation. Streams of Expression deepens the anticipation for Lovano’s next recording, whose artistic direction is anyone’s guess.