Joe Lovano, a solid, workmanlike tenor saxophonist much admired by fellow musicians for his warm tone and fertile imagination, made a big breakthrough in January with the release of his fifth album, "Rush Hour." A joint outing with composer Gunther Schuller, it showcased Lovano in a variety of lush, string-rich settings.
Lovano is at the Jazz Bakery with a quintet named Symbiosis that attempts, on a smaller scale, to duplicate the sounds and rhythms of the album via an ensemble of cello, bass, drums, voice and Lovano's saxophones. Thursday's opening-night appearance, however, demonstrated that there can be vast differences between good intentions and questionable results.
On the up side, many of the too-controlled qualities of the recording were set aside in favor of some extended soloing. Lovano's playing on "Passion Flower" and (on Eb clarinet) on "Blackwell" proffered a taste of his muscular, no-nonsense style.
On the down side, the soloing only occasionally approached the consistently high level of work Lovano has done in other contexts--especially his performances with guitarist John Scofield's group. Equally problematic, vocalist Judi Silvano, a background presence, for the most part, on the Lovano's album, became a fully equal, front-line soloist with Symbiosis. And, precise and far-ranging as her voice may be, neither her sense of rhythm nor her improvisatory inventiveness were on a par with Lovano's playing.
In fact, cellist Erik Friedlander, generally relegated to filling in with textural lines, contributed the most effective counter-improvisations to Lovano's solos. More choruses from Friedlander would have had a salutary effect upon the music.
But the most bothersome aspect of the evening was simply that the effort to stay in sync with a successful recording voided Lovano's initial Jazz Bakery booking, in which he was scheduled to appear with his regular quartet. From a marketing perspective, the decision was probably the right one. The Jazz Bakery was nearly full, and a jazz artist--given the uncertainties of the profession--can hardly be blamed for wanting to maximize a commercial opportunity. But it sure would have been nice to have heard Lovano in a program of straight-ahead, uncomplicated jazz.
* Joe Lovano and Symbiosis at the Jazz Bakery through tonight. 3233 Helms Ave. (310) 271-9039. $20 admission. Lovano performs one show, at 8:30.