2001 Grammy Award Winner for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Jazz Journalists Awards Album of the Year
The music on 52nd Street Themes holds a deep, personal meaning for saxophonist Joe Lovano. It’s as though Lovano had worked his entire life to prepare for the work he did in 2000â€"culminating in the rich, expansive Nonet charts of 52nd Street Themes, written by long-time Cleveland veteran Willie Smith.
Fronting a four-man sax section, Joe blasts through such strong Dameronia as The Scene Is Clean and Tadd’s Delight, refreshes the indelible lyricism of Dameron’s lovely If You Could See Me Now, and, in an intimate duet with pianist John Hicks, one of Joe’s favorite pianists, velvetizes Billy Strayhorn’s lush Passion Flower.
It also features Miles Davis’ early “Sippin’ at Bells”; Lovano’s homage to Charlie Parker, the complex “Charlie Chan,” a three-way saxophone conversation between Lovano and fellow tenormen George Garzone and Ralph Lalama that’s punctuated by Lewis Nash’s pinpoint drums; “Abstractions on 52nd Street,” Lovano’s extrapolation and embellishment of a Thelonious Monk line; and George Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” plushly orchestrated by Willie “Face” Smith and lovingly performed by Lovano.
Others contributing sax are Gary Smulyan (baritone) and Steve Slagle (alto); Tim Hagans and Conrad Herwig play trumpet and trombone, respectively, while Dennis Irwin handles bass. Like many other Lovano records, this hews close to tradition but updates it effectively. Besides the fervor of the playing â€" Smith says he would’ve played saxophone, but these New York players were much better prepared â€" the song selection is astute, Lovano’s originals are solid, and Smith’s sole compositional contribution, “Deal,” is tasty indeed.
Evoking the spirits of Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ernie Henry and George Gershwin, this album conveys the spirit of bebop as a living tradition, reveling in the collective camaraderie of a smallish ensemble that projects all the harmonic opulence of a big band.