Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone, tarogato, gongs; Marilyn Crispell: piano; Carmen Castaldi: drums, percussion
Joe Lovano, widely acknowledged as one of the great tenor saxophonists of our time, has been a presence on ECM since 1981, appearing on key recordings with Paul Motian, Steve Kuhn, John Abercrombie and Marc Johnson. Trio Tapestry, introducing a new group with pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi is his first as a leader for the label. An album of focused intensity and expressive beauty, it features a programme of eleven new compositions that Joe calls “some of the most intimate and personal music I’ve recorded so far.”
The album, produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Sear Sound studio, draws upon Lovano’s history and development as a player who has addressed both jazz tradition and exploratory improvisation. “For me this recording is a statement of where I am, where I’ve been and where I may be headed.” In a performer’s note in the CD booklet he says of the recording, “The divine timing of interplay and interaction is magical. Trio Tapestry is a melodic, harmonic, rhythmic musical tapestry throughout, sustaining moods and atmospheres.”
Each of the pieces here flowers from a melodic core informed by twelve-tone processes, a methodology Lovano came to appreciate through his long association with composer Gunter Schuller. “And working with Marilyn Crispell who also had lived in that world, having played a lot of contemporary composition and played extensively with Anthony Braxton and so on, we had a beautiful communication in that sound.” If the colours and textures of the music invoke a chamber music ambience, the players themselves “are deeply rooted in jazz, sounding out each other’s feelings in the improvising, and making music within the music. I brought in the material and had an idea of what I wanted to happen, but in terms of how we play together, there is a very equal weight of contribution. We harmonise in this music in a really special way.”
Crispell and Lovano first crossed paths in the mid-1980s when the pianist was a member of Anthony Braxton’s quartet, with Gerry Hemingway and John Lindberg. “They happened to be recording in a studio next door to my loft in New York. We met then and stayed in touch.” Around 2006 Joe sat in with Marilyn’s trio with Mark Helias and Paul Motian for a night at the Village Vanguard, which led to a concert as a quartet at New York’s Miller Theater, playing compositions of all four musicians. “That was the first time I’d played a full concert with Marilyn.” The potential for further musical exploration was evident, fulfilled now by Trio Tapestry.
Carmen Castaldi and Joe Lovano have played together since teenage years in Cleveland, and moved to Boston together to attend Berklee in 1971. In the mid-70s when Joe relocated to New York, Carmen headed to the West Coast where he was based for the next couple of decades. Since his return to Ohio, cooperation between the two friends has intensified. Castaldi played on Joe’s Viva Caruso album on Blue Note and toured widely with Lovano’s Street Band, “playing a more ‘folk’ kind of music, with a different energy”, in a line-up including Judy Silvano, Gil Goldstein, Ed Schuller and Erik Friedlander. “Carmen is a wonderful free spirit on the drums, a total improviser, inspired by Paul Motian his whole life. I was really happy to have him on this recording, which is more than ‘a session’ for me. It incorporates a way of playing and interacting that Carmen and I have developed together over very many years.”
Castaldi’s subtle drumming engages with the dialogues between saxophone and piano, detailing and adding commentary. A further textural element, augmenting the music’s sense of mystery, comes from Lovano’s use of gongs. “I started to develop that concept back in the 1980s, playing tenor saxophone and accompanying myself on gongs, having a mallet in my right hand to create different tonalities and different key centres from which to improvise.”
Over the last fifteen years, the soulful cry of the Hungarian tarogato has also found a place in Lovano’s music. It seems to lend itself to solemn or yearning meditations. Joe played tarogato on “The Spiritual” on Steve Kuhn’s Mostly Coltrane, for example. On Trio Tapestry it is featured on “Mystic”, declaiming over rumbling percussion.
Cecil Taylor once praised Marilyn Crispell for “spearheading a new lyricism” in creative music, and Lovano who hails the pianist for her “amazing sound, touch and vocabulary” is pleased to provide a context for her expressive voice here. Crispell, of course, has recorded for ECM for more than twenty years to date, with a discography that includes trio albums with Paul Motian and Gary Peacock (Nothing Ever Was, Anyway and Amaryllis), a duo album with Peacock (Azure), the solo piano album Vignettes, and more.
Lovano’s ECM leader debut with Trio Tapestry follows more than two decades as a Blue Note recording artist, with numerous releases in formats from duo (with Hank Jones, for instance) to large ensemble (the Grammy-winning 52nd Street Themes).
The Trio Tapestry team of Lovano, Crispell and Castaldi is touring on both sides of the Atlantic in 2019. A CD launch concert at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo on January 27 is followed by a US tour in March. The tour includes concerts in Albuquerque, New Mexico (March 10), Santa Cruz, California (March 11), Seattle (March 12 and 13) and a special event at San Francisco’s Miner Theatre on March 15 where Joe will play with two trios: Trio Tapestry and a trio with Bill Frisell and Tyshawn Sorey. In May, Trio Tapestry will tour in Europe, returning to the US for a week of concerts at New York’s Village Vanguard at the end of the month (May 21-26).