Like most of Joe Lovano’s music, this album is very novel and very out. It consists of two suites, The Birth of the Cool Suite as the centerpiece and then the Streams of Expression Suite as bookends. The Birth of the Cool Suite is a tribute to Gil Evans, John Lewis and Miles Davis, arranged by Gunther Schuller, who used parts of the original sessions in this new arrangement. Schuller also conducts the suite in the recording. Streams of Expression is Lovano’s own composition, which harks back to avant-garde scene of the ‘60s.
The first track begins with Lovano alone, drums emerging in the background. The ensemble comes in all at once in a grand crescendo. At height of the cresendo, Lovano solos again, settling into a bebop beat. The rest of ensemble comes in with repeating rhythms, growing louder, while Lovano solos. This type of arrangement continues through the Expression suite. The Cool suite is more rigidly arranged, using the ensemble to create a blending of several different melodic and harmonic lines. Melodies from several Miles songs can be picked out, but the arrangements are all unique. The large ensemble is used primarily in the arranged sections for a power and volume effect. Some sections of the piece sound more like a big band arrangement than a small ensemble.
The ensemble is well balanced, using a whole range of woodwinds with 2 trumpets and a trombone. The bass clarinets and baritone sax add richness to the low end, while several flutes, clarinets, soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones maintain the melody lines. Lovano also makes the debut of a horn called an aulochrome on this album. Francois Louis designed the horn specifically for Lovano. The horn looks and sounds like a double soprano saxophone, and was designed to be both polyphonic and chromatic. The double mouthpiece is made of two separate parts, creating different tone chambers and enabling independent harmonization by both pipes. This also allows for differential tones, where a virtual bass note is created as a result of the different frequencies in the pipes. "Mistuning" can also create pitch beats, which the musician can control. Listen for it on the last part of the Expression suite, "Fire Prophet" and on "Big Ben".