Joe Lovano With WDR Big Band & Rundfunk Orchestra

Released September 2, 2008

Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2009

JazzTimes Top 10 Albums of 2008




Saxophonist Joe Lovano refuses to stand still. Virtually every album of his from the 1990’s onward features a different concept, context, or aspect of his artistry. From duos to full orchestras, as a player and/or composer, Lovano does it all. Recorded in concert, SYMPHONICA features his saxophone in front of a German orchestra in a nearly all-Lovano-composed program. Lovano’s full-bodied approach to the tenor balances all this musical questing with the straight-ahead, swinging hard with the cerebral. The arrangements here are rich and varied throughout. Some tracks have overtones of classical music, others of Charles Mingus and Woody Herman (of whose big band Lovano was a member), even hints of Frank Zappa and early `70s fusion. Stirring, smart, and provocative, this stands as one of Lovano’s finest achievements.

Track Listing:

1. Emperor Jones (Joe Lovano) 6:11

2. Eternal Joy (Joe Lovano) 8:24

3. Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love (Charles Mingus) 12:15

4. Alexander the Great (Joe Lovano) 11:51

5. His Dreams (Joe Lovano) 8:04

6. The Dawn of Time (Joe Lovano) 8:26

7. I’m All for You (Joe Lovano) 9:25


Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 4, 6, 7), soprano saxophone (2, 5)

Paul Shigihara: guitar solo (6)

Frank Chastenier: piano solo (1)

Karolina Strassmayer: alto saxophone solo (4); uncredited: trumpet solo (2, 7)

WDR Radio Big Band and Orchestra:

Michael Abene (arranger and conductor);

Ulla Van Daelen (harp);

Bernhard Holker, Johannes Chane Becker (viola);

Brigitte Schreiner (flute);

Michael Hofmann (bassoon);

Heiner Wiberny (alto saxophone);

Olivier Peters (tenor saxophone);

Jens Neufang (baritone saxophone);

Rob Bruynen, Jurgen Schuster, John Marshall, Klaus Osterloh, Andy Haderer (trumpet);

Alfons Gaisbauer, Ricardo Almeida (French horn);

Bernt Laukamp, Ingo Luis, Steve Singer, Ludwig Nuss, Mattis Cederberg, Dave Horler (trombone);

Hans Dekker (drums);

Michael Schmidt, Romanus Schuttler, Egmont Kraus (percussion)

Recorded November 26, 2005, at Kolner Philharmonie, WDR Studio 4, Germany Produced by Joe Lovano, Michael Abene, Lucas Schmid, Joe Lovano, Michael Abene


Although he has peppered his lengthy catalog with the occasional tribute album (Celebrating Sinatra, Viva Caruso), prolific tenorist Joe Lovano has not taken much time to look back and reconsider his own efforts. But it is hard for any composer to resist an offer to hear his music played by a symphony, and here, on his 20th Blue Note release, Lovano has succumbed to the entreaties of conductor Michael Abene and the WDR Orchestra of Cologne, Germany, and chosen seven tunes from his repertoire (six of his originals, plus Charles Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” which Lovano recorded on his Village Rhythm album) for symphonic arrangement. Typical of Lovano, the results are anything but ordinary.
“Emperor Jones” (first heard on Lovano’s Blue Note debut, Landmarks) makes for a calm and conventional ballad opening, with the strings seemingly borrowed from a Gordon Jenkins session of the 1950s, and setting the stage for some warm saxophone work from Lovano. The closing track, “I’m All for You” (from the album of the same name), is another ballad, its orchestration more reminiscent of Nelson Riddle. But in between, Lovano and Abene give the orchestra some challenges, starting with the bop-influenced “Eternal Joy” (from Trio Fascination). The orchestra also has to be on its toes for the dramatic “Alexander the Great” (from Friendly Fire), another bop number with some involved and sometimes fast-paced passages. The more reflective “His Dreams” (the only studio recording on what is otherwise a live date, first heard on Village Rhythm) provides some respite before “The Dawn of Time” (from Universal Language), which boasts the most interplay among the horns and some surprising electric guitar work.
On his tribute albums, Lovano has shown a tendency to avoid sentimentality and take a rigorous approach to his musical heroes. It’s good to see he’s no less sparing of himself here.

William Ruhlmann (JazzTimes)