Bringing together as it does many previously unwound strands of Joe Lovano’s interests and weaving them into a rich fabric, Viva Caruso
is an idea so apt that its omission would have amounted to discological neglect. One can pick up reminders of the innovative arrangement of Rush Hour,
the musical insight and reverence of Celebrating Sinatra,
the pairing of saxophone exploration with percussive colors of the Trio Fascination
CD’s, the improvisational clarity of 52nd Street Themes,
the darting give-and-take of Flying Colors
and the unmistakable tone and spirit of Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone, even without the liner notes confirmation .
Moreover, Viva Caruso
results from Lovano’s artistic restlessness and infinite absorption of ideas, even as he continuously refers to the origins of his quest: listening to the music of his Italian family in Cleveland. In that respect, Lovano adopts the same searching aesthetic as Don Byron’s, which consists of a lifelong appreciation and expansion of the music heard as a child. Lovano’s growth took a leap, though, when he met his wife and musical partner, Judi Silvano, who introduced him to opera, classical music and dance. Viva Caruso
is yet another extension of the same process of learning and quenching of curiosity. After reading Enrico Caruso’s biography, Lovano embarked on a 2-year journey of exploration and refinement before the CD itself emerged.
Rather than re-creating the forcefulness of Caruso’s performances, Lovano, along with arranger Byron Olson, reconsiders the harmonic possibilities of the songs Caruso sang, most of which originated from his early years in Naples. None of the tracks offers more proof of such creative readaptation than "O Sole Mio," the theme for which typifies Italian singing throughout the world. After Lovano’s tenor sax sings the first chorus, accompanied only by bass and drums, he loosens the tune from its Neapolitan moorings and lets it glide freely. Some of the measures may be indistinguishable from his work on Flights Of Fancy: Trio Fascination Edition Two.
A quick break severs the 3-minute first section of "O Sole Mio" from the barely recognizable one that follows. All of a sudden, the harmonies intact, the contrasting interpretation involves walking bass and a light swing on drums.
On the CD’s only aria, "Vesti La Giubba ‘I Pagliacci’," Lovano tones down the drama as both Scott Lee and Ed Schuller add an undertone of mournfulness on arco bass, the single tenor soaring above the low buzzing and the percussive splashes.
Lovano perceived the colors of Italy as consisting of brightness accented by subdued warmth as described by reed instruments and rolling drums. While Lovano’s Street Band features chordless rhythm instruments in a minimalistic stripping away of excess, Olson’s Opera House Ensemble features the interwoven lines of woodwinds wrapped around Lovano’s work, John Clark’s French horn being the only brass instrument amongst the woodier horns. "Cielo Turchino" and "Pecche?" merge arrangements involving the broad bassoon-to-flute spectrum with melodic inventiveness. Once again, Silvano’s voice becomes another one of the horns as Lovano’s horn assumes wordless vocal characteristics.
Some of the notable moments in Viva Caruso
include Gil Goldstein’s twisting and deceleration of the theme of "Viva Caruso" in a remarkable accordion solo, as well as the calypso beat that the Street Band applies to "Santa Lucia."
The albums tour de force
is Lovano’s 4-part suite, "Il Carnivale Di Pulcinella," depicting the energy and craziness of the Italian street festival, complete with courtship, celebration, evil, cleansing, frenzy and resolution. Quite a dramatic undertaking throughout a fast-paced 6½ minutes.
In fact, Viva Caruso
is quite an undertaking for 65 minutes, the CD’s relative concision exceeded only by its joyfulness and artistic insight.