Saxophonist Joe Lovano’s sideman appearances for ECM label stretch back more than thirty years. For the most part, the American delivered the label’s musical compass with the same gruff tone and rhythmic edge that marked his own-name recordings for Blue Note.

Here though, the saxophonist delves deeper into the resonant lyricism and understated rhythms that marked 2019’s Trio Tapestry, his ECM debut as a leader. This follow-up release, a set of eight Lovano originals, was recorded later the same year. As before, Lovano clothes his floaty tenor sax phrases with the ethereal tonalities of Nordic jazz. Pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi weave ambient textures into a diffuse pulse.

Opening track “Chapel Song” sets the tone with Crispell’s sparse piano rounding out Lovano’s wispy introductory phrase. Castaldi enters with a sequence of pings, the theme is contemplative and spiritual in tone, and the mood is sustained to the end of the piece. The haunting “Night Creatures” comes next, introduced by mellow piano chords. Two minutes in, the key changes and the playing grows more intense, reaches a gentle high and then arcs back from whence it came. Then follows the ebb-and-flow moods of “West of the Moon” with Lovano displaying greater edge.

Although saxophone is the dominant voice, the collective spirit is high. Crispell closely follows Lovano’s trains of thought with a wide array of voicings and melodic fragments of her own invention and holds one’s attention when taking the lead. With no steady bass, Castaldi can tug the pulse this way and that, decorate phrases and rumble and roar when required.

“Garden of Expression”, the album’s ambitious title track, hangs contrasting moods on a repeated theme and “Dream on That” is the nearest thing to an up-tempo jaunt; Crispell introduces the dance-like theme, Lovano hints at Ornette Coleman at the end. Elsewhere, “Treasured Moments” and “The Sacred Chant” are suitably serene and the gong-adorned “Zen Like” is exactly that.


‘Garden of Expression’ is released by ECM