Exclusive Interview - Joe Lovano

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Trio Tapestry is the deeply atmospheric new release from saxophonist Joe Lovano, and his first as leader for ECM. The album introduces a wonderful new trio (pianist Marilyn Crispell and fellow Cleveland native/drummer Carmen Castaldi) performing music of flowing lyricism, delicate texture and inspired interplay.  Recorded in New York's Sear Sound in March of 2018, the album was produced by Manfred Eicher. 



ArkivJazz: Joe, after 25 years on Blue Note, I was really curious to see what your next step would be. I knew it would be something interesting, and I have to say Trio Tapestry comes off as really fresh.

Joe Lovano: Thanks. It was inspired by all the projects and situations through my Blue Note period. I had a number of trio recordings there, you know. There was Trio Fascination with Dave (Holland) and Elvin (Jones), then Flights of Fancy, which had four different trios. There was the typical bass/sax/ drums trio, but then the other three trios were unorthodox. Doing the Flights of Fancy session really gave me lots of confidence to do this session. On that recording, there was one trio that had Dave Douglas, Mark Dresser and myself, and the other trios included one with Billy Drews and Joey Barron, and one with Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner.

AJ: I had forgotten about that one, that was amazing.

JL: That was really something, man. To play with Toots and play in that kind of dialogue, that was something.

AJ: Do you ever talk to Kenny?

JL: Yeah, sure. We’re planning to do some things…we have something coming up in the fall, where he’ll play a concert with me at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

AJ: Oh good, he’s got to still be one of the most underrated piano players out there.

JL: He’s an amazing musician, man, and fits in so many settings and always contributes the deepest concepts within the music that’s being played. We have a long history, and I’m looking forward to doing more things with him, for sure. The current trio of piano, saxophone and drums actually gives me the opportunity to be the bass. I’m playing top to bottom and from bottom to top, and in between the piano and the drums, which is a different kind of place to be when you’re in an ensemble. Of course, the trio with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell opened the door for this too, but in that setting, Bill covered a lot of the bass tonalities. Marilyn touches on lower pitches, but she’s not trying to make up for the bass.

AJ: No, she’s not laying out a bass line for you, I was going to bring that up.

JL: It’s like on “Seeds of Change,” (from Trio Tapestry) when I accompany within what she’s playing, it’s a different kind of feeling. It’s so beautiful and it gives me a whole other area in the music to explore.

AJ: …and if somebody’s playing typical comp chords on piano behind you, it would take you into a place that’s not as far out as you’d like to go.

JL: Part of the tapestry is the rhythmic freedom of it all. You have a melodic, harmonic and rhythmic tapestry of feelings that just grow from piece to piece. It’s funny playing the songs in a different sequence in the concert, because each piece has a different feeling because of the sequence. So that’s going to be fun to explore too, putting different tunes in different orders. That will create a whole new mood, from tune to tune.

AJ: Yeah, it sounds like if you made this record again and re-sequenced it, it would have a whole different feel.

JL: It would! Manfred’s (producer Manfred Eicher) post-production ideas were really great with this release. Manfred was at the controls and has such great ears…he really hears inside the music and his ideas of tonalities and colors are really beautiful. Then in post-production, he had the idea of sequencing things like an LP where you have side A and side B. So, Side A is really from the beginning through “Gong Episode,” then side B starts at “Rare Beauty” and include the last four tunes. The sequencing gave it a really different kind of flow….really beautiful.

AJ: It’s interesting that you bring up “Gong Episode,” because that really kind of clears the deck and changes the color of the recording at that point. It almost sounded like some Japanese film music, with the kind of change which is often used in some Samurai films as a segue from one section to another. It’s really transformative.

JL: The very first piece “One Time In,” is a solo saxophone and gong piece, and I had been working on this idea and concept ever since my first record as a leader (Tones, Shapes & Colors) on the Soul Note label back in 1984. I’ve been working on this concept all these years and was really happy to have the opportunity to actually include that approach within this group, because there’s a space for it.

AJ: Yeah, it really creates its own atmosphere and its own world.

JL: You get personal with your music and try to be expressive from your life and your own experiences. The most beautiful music in jazz is created by players who have that in their DNA.



AJ: It sounds like you and Carman (Castaldi) go way back…

JL: We do…we were teenagers together and started out playing together. We were 17-18 years old and went to Berklee College of Music together in 1971, and we’ve had a long relationship of playing some beautiful music together through the years.

AJ: Yeah, his playing is gorgeous. It’s really tasteful and contributes a lot.

JL: Carman has an approach where each drum or cymbal is its own instrument. Even though he’ll play the whole set as it’s all one, he breaks things down and creates some really beautiful tonalities and sounds. When I moved to New York in the mid-70s, he went out to the West Coast and ended up staying out there until the mid-90s. He’s been playing with me on and off all these years, but it was always kind of leading to this intimate moment with the new release, so I’m happy that he’s around. His contribution to the group is just wonderful.

AJ: Well, it’s a strong trio all the way around, your piano player is amazing also…

JL: Yeah, Marilyn (Crispell) has an amazing sound and touch, and an amazing approach about playing all kinds of music. She has a lot of deep roots on the scene with folks like Anthony Braxton and others. She lives up here in Woodstock and is just a beautiful creative player. She’s really a song player with a real abstract approach from her experiences in all kinds of music. She played early on in the Us Five group at the Vanguard with Esperanza (Spalding), Otis (Brown III) and Mela (Francisco Mela).

AJ: She played piano in that group?

JL: Well, she subbed for James (Weidman) who couldn’t make the Vanguard one time. I called her because she’s the kind of player that doesn’t just play all the time. She lays out and lets things happen in the music, contributing at just the right moment. I had her play with us and it was fun, with a different kind of rhythmic approach that really fit in beautifully.

AJ: Well, it looks like you have a handful of good dates coming up. San Francisco should be fun.

JL: Yeah, I’m really happy to be doing the residency there. We’re going to do one night with the Nonet, then the “Trioism” night with my Trio Tapestry and with the trio of Bill Frisell and Tyshawn Sorey. We’re going to play as a quintet at the end of the concert and will probably focus on a few of Paul Motian’s tunes as we all have histories with Paul. Next, I’m doing a duets night with Chucho Valdés, and then a “Tenor Summit” saxophone night with Josh Redman and Ravi Coltrane. That night’s also going to have Geoffrey Keyser, Scott Colley and Tain Watts on drums also.

AJ: This is March 14-17 in San Francisco?

JL: Yeah, those four nights at Miner Auditorium. It’s in the middle of some dates with the trio on the west coast, and then the trio has a May period in Europe and the Village Vanguard in late May. This year’s the 50th anniversary of ECM Records also, and I’m really excited about my release being one of the first releases of the 50th anniversary year for Manfred and the label. There will also be some concerts involved with the anniversary that I’ll be involved with.

AJ: Your cover shot looks spectacular. It doesn’t look like your typical ECM cover which is usually a little more austere…

JL: You know what, I think this might be the first one with someone on the cover. Maybe the first since that early Keith Jarrett record called Facing You. I’m not sure, but this might be the first one since then. We were really surprised about it. We did a photo session with Jimmy Katz for publicity shots, and we sent Manfred a bunch of photos that Jimmy took, and he came back right away and said that this one had to be the cover.

AJ: I was surprised, and I was thrilled for Jimmy too. That’s the old Blue Note family there…

JL: Well that’s my history, that’s my present, and that’s my future, always. You know, I really try to express myself in the moment of now, but it’s all really coming from your roots in all kinds of ways. Your relationships with people create so much beautiful energy. I’m really happy and proud to have created recordings like this that has a lot of peaceful and beautiful music on it, and it’s not aggressive and nervous. This is how I’m completely feeling about expression and playing together with other people. You listen and follow the sound and create some music within the music.

AJ: Well, if I find myself in New York in May, I’ll be at the Vanguard.

JL: That would be great.

AJ: Well, this is an amazing lineup of music, and it’s one of the freshest I’ve heard in some time.



ArkivJazz spoke with legendary photographer Jimmy Katz who took the cover image for Trio Tapestry.  Katz has documented the world of jazz for three decades, crafting iconic portraits of artists and capturing historic moments in the recording studio. 


Jimmy Katz: ECM told me that the cover was already done, so it wasn't my mission to take a shot like this. I thought they were going to hate the shots, since they're not the kind of photos they usually use for their covers. But, when we heard from the label they told me they loved the photos, that the bridge shots were amazing, and that Manfred wanted to use this one for the cover.  I felt like Homer Simpson…really despondent…everything’s terrible…and then a triumphant return.

At most shoots in the past, I would take shots that I knew could be used - that’s number one – and then at the end of the shoots I would always try to shoot something for myself...something I would want to look at years from now. If I didn’t get that shot I always was a little disappointed. So that’s how I look at these photo shoots...I aim to get one shot that I could use for a museum show. That’s my goal.