Only a handful of journeymen jazz players consistently win magazine polls of both critics and readers. Saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas are longtime members of that club.
Both are coming to the Earshot Jazz Festival in the rarely-seen collaborative group Sound Prints, on Saturday, Oct. 18. It should the highlight of the four-week annual spree.
Lovano and Douglas have carved out a territory that could arguably be called a new mainstream — between roots revivalism and head-exploding experimentalism. No matter how far out they go — into dissonance, free-improvisation, tangential forms or extended instrumental techniques — their music is still blues-drenched, swinging jazz.
In a phone interview last month from his home in upstate New York, the Cleveland-raised Lovano said he owed his openness to both traditional and avant-garde sounds to his father, tenor saxophonist Tony “Big T” Lovano.
“I have to credit my dad for his passion and record collection,” said the 61-year-old sax man, whose raspy voice and beat-hipster patois are beloved by fans the world over. “He played with Tadd Dameron and heard Charlie Parker and Lester young live and played a jam session with Coltrane. He had all Coltrane’s records, man, right on into ‘Meditations’ and ‘Kulu Sé Mama,’ so I grew up listening to music as one expressive thing.”
After attending the Berklee College in the 1970s — where for 13 years he has held the Gary Burton Chair for Jazz Performance — Lovano moved to New York in 1980, where his alternately muscular and tender touch with the legendary Mel Lewis Orchestra made an immediate impression. His tenure with drummer Paul Motian — in the same group that brought guitarist Bill Frisell to the fore — solidified Lovano as one of the premiere new horn players in jazz.
Lovano and Douglas were inspired to form Sound Prints after working together in the SFJAZZ Collective in the 2008-09. They formed a quintet with longtime Lovano-Douglas collaborator Joey Baron; Douglas’ warm-toned bass player Linda Oh; and swinging young pianist Lawrence Fields, who, like Esperanza Spalding, is a former student and discovery of Lovano’s at Berklee.
After playing a few gigs in 2012, Lovano asked saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter to write for them and the two compositions he delivered had a dazzling premiere at the 2013 Monterey Jazz Festival. The group’s name is inspired by the Shorter tune, “Footprints.”
One of Lovano’s most important albums is his 1996 collaboration with the great trumpeter Tom Harrell, “Quartets,” which Blue Note is honoring with a vinyl reissue. Lovano readily acknowledges a kinship between the “Quartets” band and Sound Prints.
“Dave’s a disciple of Tom’s,” said the saxophonist. “And what that really means is that Dave is a very free player and very organized and swinging and harmonic, so the one thing I feel is similar is beautiful communication, the way we can create music within the music.”
“Music within the music” is what Sound Prints is all about, as a thrilling live broadcast two years ago from the Village Vanguard, made clear (wbgo.org, search “Sound Prints”). As with the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s, the instruments rise and fall in varying combinations, with Douglas and Lovano often soloing simultaneously and sympathetically.
“It’s the whole thing of sharing the space,” said Lovano. “Taking the lead, following … When we play as a full quintet, we can accompany each other. Then sometimes it’s a quartet, sometimes it’s a trio. We try to find these things as we’re playing. Lay out and listen.”
Sound Prints recorded a live album at Monterey, but it will not be released later this year. The Earshot concert is a chance to get ahead of the curve with one of the best groups working in jazz today.
Paul de Barros (206-464-3247 or email@example.com) covers music at blogs.seattletimes.com/soundposts/ or follow him on Twitter @pdebarros