Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with Sound Prints at the Village vanguard

Joe Lovano remarked that "it was the end of an era" as he and the Sound Prints quintet he co-leads with Dave Douglas launched into a week at the Village Vanguard in NYC on 12 June. Days earlier the Vanguard's matriarch Lorraine Gordon had passed away aged 95, hence Lovano's comment. Gordon, who, after divorce from Blue Note records co-founder Alfred Lion, married Village Vanguard owner Max Gordon in 1949 (the club opened in 1935), had been actively involved with management of the Vanguard until late 2012, the year she earned an NEA JazzMasters honour. Just after 9/11 I spoke to her for my then running Jazzwise column 'Stars and Stripes', where she talked about how the New York jazz community were dealing with the fallout from the disaster. She was an acerbic, principled woman and a lifelong, committed jazz fanatic.

Without further fanfare – Gordon was a stickler for sets starting promptly – Lovano and Douglas dramatically commenced their set on the tight stage in the wedge shaped corner of this tiny, hallowed venue, with contrapuntal, antiphonal, unaccompanied horns. The two leaders alternated original compositions with settings of Wayne Shorter classics (a Douglas arrangement of 'Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum' and Lovano's recasting of 'Juju') starting with the trumpeter's 'Dream State' – the lead-off track from their recommended recent release Scandal. Counterweighting the lines of trumpet and straight tenor were a consistent feature of the intensely interwoven music which was stoked with relevance and energy by the redoubtable Joey Baron, one of the most valuable jazz drummers since Billy Higgins. Also superb was the insistent timing, rich tone and concentrated ideas of bassist Linda May Han Oh, who had picked up the gong for bassist of the year at the Jazz Journalists' Awards a couple of hours earlier.

St Louis-born pianist and former Berklee student of Lovano, not to mention a tall drink of water, was Lawrence Fields, whose rangy fingers maintained a dancing pulse and chordal architecture reminiscent, at intervals, of Herbie Hancock. Despite impassioned solos from all, it was the tunes that held the night, more so the originals than the Wayne arrangements, notably Douglas' memorable 'Ups and Downs'. The latter, a lilting ballad, began with an impressionistic descending/ascending line from the tenor with contrary motion harmonization from trumpet, beautifully buoyed by the rhythm section. Other Douglas odes that stood out were the eponymous CD title track, more mournful than scandalous per se, a sad paean to these politically messed up times, which featured bulbous muted trumpet and sighing, controlled cynicism from Lovano. At a similar dirge-like tempo was 'Libra', an arresting theme with episodic changes reminiscent of Shorter's adventurousness, succinctly rendered with a pellucid piano intro. Saliently, and I've noticed this before with the capacious book of John Zorn's Masada, Douglas has all the music memorised before he hits the bandstand.

Sound-Prints 093-2

Lovano's pieces included the cartwheeling 'Full Sun', which also encompassed complementary and asymmetrical horn lines, a tensile bass chorus heralded a burrowing solo from Lovano, holding his ungainly alp horn-like tenor aloft as he dug in. Paired with this in the second set was 'Full Moon' – a more doleful, tidal affair, and a fine feature for the Cleveland saxist's precipitous approach, in which his gorgeous note flurries were held in abeyance, thence released from bluesy reins. More upbeat and permissive of punchy punctuation from Baron were 'High Noon' (which Lovano tackles on G Mezzo Soprano on the CD) and the playful 'Corner Tavern' commemorating a saloon in Milwaukee, which featured a stellar solo from May Han Oh. The bassist wore a stoic expression and meditative mien then occasionally cracked a smile in joyful communication with the more readily grinning Baron. She's been in the band since its debut at the Vanguard in 2012, as have Fields and Baron – the unit grew out of Lovano and Douglas' association with the SFJazz Collective in 2008 and a shared appreciation of Shorter's oeuvre which has expanded to fresh material in that ruminative ilk. Sound Prints, riffing, I'm assuming, on Shorter's 'Footprints' is an intense, compelling unit with a buckled-in agenda, yet the charts, while defined, aren't overly hermetic and work well as a collaborative suite.

In correspondence with longtime club manager Jed Eisenman (who started as a janitor and dishwasher there 37 years ago as a teenager), there's little fear of the Vanguard shuttering anytime soon, since Lorraine's legacy has been handed down to her daughter Deborah. Just in case however, a souvenir band photo was taken for Jazzwise beneath the legendary awning. The upbeat Jed who will remain steadfast as manager, commented about his longtime professional relationship with the late proprietor: "Lorraine Gordon was one of the last of the jazz Mohicans, a Runyonesque character you either loved or hated - for my part I loved her very much."

Story and photos – Michael Jackson

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