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2. Joshua Redman and Mark Turner.
3. Branford Marsalis.
4. Chris Potter and Coda.

imgA jazz revival in the early eighties was led by the clean-living Wynton and Branford Marsalis.   As record companies promoted the 'young lions', many new players enjoyed opportunities unavailable to their predecessors only a few years earlier.   The development of five important saxophonists, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner, Chris Potter and Branford Marsalis is examined by Frank Griffith.

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Groovin' High.

imgMany groundbreaking saxophonists of the last 20 years of the century, like Branford Marsalis (left), emerged from the jazz 'revival' of the early 1980s.   Those highlighted here uphold stylistic, tonal and repertory traditions of the instrument and the jazz legacy, at the same time borrowing from contemporary musical trends.   Most use largely acoustic ensembles, with the odd exception of an electric keyboard for effect and a variety of guitars.   It is not unusual for them to record songs from the recent popular music repertoire.

One attribute evident in many contemporary players is their ability to extend beyond the normal highest note of the instrument, the standard high F.   During the 1950s and 1960s, high-note specialists such as Sam Donahue and Eddie Harris rose above the crowd, often playing a full octave beyond the normal range.   Although they were respected by their fellow musicians, this proclivity was often dismissed as a freakish stunt.

However, when the saxophone was assimilated into rock, funk and jazz­fusion during the late 1960s and 1970s, use of the high altissimo register grew steadily.   The volume and intensity of electric instruments obliged saxophonists to play in a high, screaming register in order to cut above the backing and emerge as the soloist.   Stylists such as David Sanborn, Michael Brecker and Grover Washington Jr. were blazing new pathways in the development of altissimo artistry.   This way of playing gradually became conventional for many of the newer players.   While it grew out of rock and R&B-influenced music, many contemporary jazz saxophonists have effectively assimilated high-note playing into more mainstream and modern jazz settings, even in the absence of electric instruments.

Joe Lovano.

Joe Lovano (b. 1952) comes from a musical family, and was encouraged by his father Tony 'Big T' Lovano, also a tenor saxophonist.   Joe's warm, dark but fiery sound reflects the influence of Coleman Hawkins and Joe Henderson, along with a virtuosic command of the altissimo register and a fleet technique to match.   His ballad playing reveals a reflective side, demonstrated on his unaccompanied treatment of Prelude To A Kiss on 'Rush Hour' (1995).

Lovano's special quality comes from his versatility both as an instrumentalist and as a purveyor of diverse musical styles and settings.   The tenor is his main horn, but the alto and soprano, together with flute and alto clarinet, also figure in his work.   Like several other saxophonists - Michael Brecker, Steve Grossman, David Liebman - he is also a talented drummer, and has often recorded on drums.

imgLovano's prolific recordings so far on Blue Note are set in a variety of musical contexts, with each CD taking a dynamic stylistic turn compared to the previous one.   His 1991 debut album 'Landmarks' was recorded at the seasoned age of 39, in contrast to the plethora of still-teething 'young lions' debuting in their early 20s.   It featured pianist Kenny Werner and guitarist John Abercrombie.   Following quickly after that came 'From The Soul' (1992) with the late New Orleans drummer Ed Blackwell.

Lovano's 'Wind Ensemble', an idea first recorded in France in 1989, was introduced to Blue Note on 'Universal Language' (1993) and featured other 1960s stalwarts such as Charlie Haden, Steve Swallow and Jack DeJohnette.   Soprano singer Judi Silvano and the angularly melodic trumpeter Tim Hagans also make important contributions to this group which continued to tour through the turn of the century.

Larger ensemble settings figure importantly in Lovano's output, which is not surprising considering his lengthy stints in the jazz orchestras of Woody Herman and Mel Lewis.   'Rush Hour' (1994), his album arranged and conducted by Gunther Schuller, includes strings and woodwinds in colourful, innovative settings for a variety of old ballads and new original compositions, while 'Celebrating Sinatra' (1997) shows off his robust tenor largely supported by veteran orchestrator Manny Albam's charts.   While this may have begun as a producer's idea for combining Lovano's Italian heritage with Sinatriana, the resulting music amounts to a high-quality tribute to the 20th century's most influential crooner.

Lovano also figures in jazz education, being a regular performer-clinician at schools and universities around the world.   His ability to interpret and relate his methods to students is one that not all musicians share.   He tells developing players of all ages to build technique directly from the music.   Lovano also stresses that the melodies, rhythms and harmonies of specific pieces should help shape technical mastery, and urges musicians to question the practising of patterns for its own sake.   All this is evident in his own playing - Lovano has an original melodic and rhythmic vocabulary which appears to have developed organically. 'next', at right, to read on.....

Jazzorg Note:   The following links connect you to the pages, which make samples of the above albums available for listening.   The pages are shown in a separate window which you may close to return to this article.

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