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It's easy to understand why Joe Lovano is the most admired tenor saxophonist under the age of 50 in jazz today. The 43-year-old Cleveland native has the thick, burnished tone of swing giants such as Ben Webster and Lester Young, yet he is completely comfortable with the open structures and radical harmonics of such members of the vanguard as David Murray and Bill Frisell. In Lovano's playing, you can hear the essential unity of the jazz tradition. Seldom has that unity been illustrated with as much lucidity or feeling as on Lovano's Rush Hour
, a brilliant album which should expand his following from critics and fellow musicians to a much wider audience. Rush Hour
is an unusual album, for nine of the 13 tracks were arranged and conducted by Pulitzer Prize-winning classical composer Gunther Schuller. For four ballads, including Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss," Schuller backs Lovano with a jazz combo and a string orchestra which thickens the atmosphere without sweetening it. For four more vigorous works--including two extended Schuller compositions plus a movement from the Charles Mingus "Epitaph" symphony which Schuller resurrected--the conductor backs the saxophonist with a brass, reed, and woodwind orchestra which features some dazzling clusters of low-pitched clarinets and high-pitched saxophones. Coleman's ballad "Kathline Gray" is arranged as a jazz chamber piece for soprano sax, cello, harp, guitar, bass, and drums with gorgeous results. Lovano completed the album with three of his own compositions plus Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge;" on these he multi-tracked various reeds and drums himself and added some truly adventurous scat singing by his wife Judy Silvano. In its perfect pairing of a major jazz voice and an uncommonly imaginative orchestrator, Rush Hour
reminds one of nothing so much as Miles Davis's collaborations with Gil Evans. --Geoffrey Himes