Viva Caruso is a roots project, Lovano the ethnic folklorist. During the research and recording stages of the venture, he dug deep into the roots of Caruso, confident that the search and ensuing creative development would reveal parts of himself as well. Quite obviously it did, underscoring the fact that Caruso, a figure of almost mythic standing, was such an inviting launch point for Lovano’s imagination. The opera star loomed large on the musical landscape of his time. So too does Lovano in his.
He explains that “the idea here was to try and interpret Caruso’s music in a way that’s free and organic and to put myself into Caruso’s world.”
Viva Caruso, Lovano’s thirteenth album for Blue Note, finds him experimenting with different group configurations covering tunes Caruso recorded (mostly culled from the Nimbus collection Caruso In Song) or heard growing up in Naples, as well as homage originals penned by the saxophonist. He was aided on the project by gifted orchestrator and conductor Byron Olson (whose Sketches of Coltrane featured Lovano).
Not coincidentally, Olson is extending a Lovano tradition, begun by Gunther Schuller on Rush Hour, then continued by Manny Albam on Celebrating Sinatra, in which the tenorman partners with exceptional arrangers to create palettes of sound drawn from the ensemble experience.
Here, Olson fashioned a 12-piece band, heavy on the woodwinds, with charts that invited open-ended contributions from all the players. Lovano coaxed from them rich layers of melodic invention, notably telling on tunes like Pecche and Soltanto A Tte.
But in imagining the album’s overall shape, the saxist heard more than a large woodwind ensemble: he designed a complementary group, the Street Band he called it, that utilized two basses and as many as three percussion on the same tunes, all designed to provide contextual intrigue.
No track provides greater evidence of that than Il Carnivale Di Pulcinella, Lovano’s original four-part suite, chronicling the narrative of the annual Neopolitan Carnival. Lovano drives the piece throughout, demonstrating his facility for underscoring mood – variously buoyant, intimate, rousing. That he plays off his band mates so effectively – the piece’s Romance section has him duetting alongside Judi Silvano’s variegated vocals, for instance attests to his methods and conceptualizations. By inspiring compelling performances from others, he virtually assured high artistry in his own play.
" Viva Caruso is easily one of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano’s most ambitious and enjoyable recordings…(and)finds the reedman adapting orchestral melodies… read more"" Viva Caruso is easily one of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano’s most ambitious and enjoyable recordings…(and)finds the reedman adapting orchestral melodies and harmonies to a jazz format…Lovano reworks many of the songs the singer recorded that are compiled on the Nimbus CD …One of the real revelations on the album is how comfortably much of Caruso’s popular oeuvre adjusts to jazz improvisation. Santa Lucia,” with its tropical-island carnival atmosphere, features Lovano in a tenor, bass, and drum format reminiscent of Saxophone Colossus-era Sonny Rollins. Read the entire review here"Matt Collar, All Music Guide