Chris Robinson @crmusicwriter

mostly music, sometimes books


Joe Lovano Cleans Up in Recent Critics Polls

Ok, after a month’s hiatus to move I’m back.  After coming up for air after packing and unpacking, I come to find out that Joe Lovano is a bad, bad man.  Of course I’ve known this for a while (although admittedly it took me quite a while before I got hip to him).  My first real exposure came via his trio with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell on their ECM album I Have the Room Above Her (can’t wait for their next record) and I’ve been blown away by his playing ever since. 

This summer Lovano, who I’m convinced can play anything with anybody at anytime, has garnred some serious praise from the jazz critic establishment.  Lovano won the awards for best tenor player, best small group band (Us Five), and record of the year for Folk Art in this year’s Jazz Journalist Association  awards, which were handed out in NYC on June 14.  A full list of the awards can be found here.

Lovano faired even better in this year’s Downbeat Critics Poll, which appears in the August issue.  He won jazz artist of the year convincingly over Sonny Rollins, narrowly beat out Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio for jazz group of the year, and edged out Rollins for tenor of the year (this was a two man race, with Chris Potter coming in a distant third).  Although Lovano’s Folk Art did not win album of the year it did come in second to the Vijay Iyer Trio’s latest album Historicity, which is just sick.  Surprisingly (at least to me because I voted for him) Lovano was nowhere to be found on the list of soprano winners.  As opposed to tenor players who happen to pick up the soprano from time to time (one thing I cannot stand on soprano is poor intonation and that spread honky-goose sound in the low end, come on folks, if you want to play soprano do what my man Branford did and take lessons, because there’s nothing worse than crappy soprano playing) Lovano has a distinct approach on the soprano and exhibits control of the horn that in my opinion most soprano players lack.  A great display of his soprano playing can be found on that live duo record he did with Hank Jones a few years back, which is maybe about the closest a jazz album can be to being perfect.

Just before I sat down to write this post I asked myself why I chose to focus on Lovano for this post.  Sure, he cleaned up, but so did plenty of other deserving folks like Vijay Iyer, Darcy James Argue and lots of others.  It then occured to me that while the jazz industry obviously recognizes Lovano, as do JazzTimes’ and Downbeats’ readers which is shown in their reader polls, most of the young (I’m talking high school and college age) saxophonists – or young jazz musicians of all instruments I know rarely say they are into Joe Lovano; some have never heard of him.  There is a huge contingent of Chris Potter disciples out there, and deservedly so, but for the most part Lovano isn’t somebody young players I know talk about as being someone they listen to, would like to emulate, or transcribe.  Maybe I just haven’t talked to the right ones.  Anyway, despite Lovano’s haul this summer, the “Titan Among Us,” as Dan Ouellette calls him, hasn’t been as influential in the next generation of kids I know as his stature in the jazz press would suggest.  I’m not sure why that is, although I’m sure there’s got to be some young kids who are diheard Lovano fans; I just haven’t met them yet.

Anyway, coming soon will be a quick run down of who I voted for in the Downbeat critics poll and how my votes stacked up to the other critics.  For the most part I wasn’t too out there, although there were a few picks that I’m sure caused the associate editor to wonder if I was high.

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