It’s a matter of buoyancy. When jazz improvisers are really, really swinging, all the ensemble action seems to float. There are innumerable ways it can work once it’s in play. Sometimes musicians bear down and deliver expressionistic ardor; sometimes they have their most feathery of maneuvers lifted by the collective flutter. Both tacks were set in motion when Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas’ Sound Prints hit the Monterey Jazz Festival on 2013’s last day of summer. With a roiling rhythm section in place and a string of live shows under their belt, their zealous chatter began to speak in tongues. Both the saxophonist and trumpeter are teeming with eloquence here, and for all the creative friction, everything seems to part of a perpetually simmering forward-glide.
Take a sec to absorb the opening of “Destination Unknown,” one of two Wayne Shorter pieces in this six-song program. The iconic saxophonist is regarded for the sleight of hand tricks he scripts into his tunes, and though the band blows declarative, it almost seems like they’re sneaking up into the song to goose them towards glory. In a flash the mid-tempo reflection moves into a smooth lurch and the horns are paying homage to the coordinated acrobatics of the Blue Angels jet squad as much as they are Shorter and his looping forays with Miles Davis.
Aesthetically, the Lovano/Douglas connection is inspired. The musicians are a decade apart in age, with the 62-year old saxophonist the elder. Both have built careers on the fruits of artistic breadth, and each has personalized his own take on freebop. That lingo dominates Sound Prints, a rambling bluster coinciding with sharp phrases while swing tempos expand and contract with enough ease to keep everything hopping. Coercive counterpoint dominates lots of the action, and while the band’s overt nod to Shorter stretches from the group name (a play on his classic “Footprints”) to his compositional contributions (“To Sail Beyond The Sunset” is the second Wayne tune) there’s also a dash of Ornette Coleman’s open-ended exclamation bouncing around, too. By the time “Power Ranger” concludes, we’ve heard a deep confluence of both sources.
The rhythm section is the epitome of creative turbulence. Drummer Joey Baron, pianist Lawrence Fields and bassist Linda Oh sustain the kind of collective splash that fires each measure of the music. Baron, one of the most expressive drummers around, leads the way. His vehemence his limned with agility, and its propels the music, providing plenty of uplift. On “Sprint” he gives his mates ample spring to go sailing towards a place where new improv episodes can be instantly concocted, and form can be manipulated with just a simple collective impulse.