Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Scandal

Sound Prints, the quintet co-led by trumpeter Dave Douglas and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, is one of the most exciting small jazz bands around. You wouldn't know it, necessarily, from their first, eponymously titled album, recorded live at the 2013 Monterey Jazz Festival and released on Blue Note, which has long been Lovano's label. Mediocre sound doesn't always suck the life out of a recording if the music is good, but that's what happened here.

The main problem was too much compression, of the sort that kills so many pop albums, where everything is dialed up to the same level of LOUD and subtleties are quashed. Why this happened, I don't know. Excess compression is not a trait of Blue Note releases; the mixing and mastering were done by some of the best in the business (James Farber and Mark Wilder, respectively). Maybe the original concert tapes were mashed beyond repair. Maybe it was a deliberate choice, to make unbalanced (or inconsistently leveled) tracks sound the same. I don't know.

In any case, the group's second album, Scandal (just out on Greenleaf Music, Douglas' self-owned label), tells a different tale entirely. Here, finally, you get something close to the band's true, live sound: the gusto of the horn players' solos, the crisscrossing melodic lines, drummer Joey Baron's cascading shifts of rhythm, every pluck and slide of Linda May Han Oh's bass work, and Lawrence Fields' anchoring sways on piano.

Sound Prints began as a Wayne Shorter tribute band (the name is a play on Shorter's classic album Footprints), and the musicians still plumb his sensibility. Two of the new album's 11 tracks are the lead-offs from Shorter's best mid-'60s albums: "Fee Fi Fo Fum" from Speak No Evil and the title track of Juju.

But Shorter is the source of inspiration, not imitation. The album's other nine tracks are originals (five by Douglas, four by Lovano), and even the Shorter pieces aren't transcriptions but arrangements—or, more accurately, imaginative re-arrangements. You hear Wayne less in the band's repertoire than in its spirit—its exuberance, its complex two-horn harmonies, and the infectious hooks that pull it all together.

The sound, recorded and mixed by Tyler McDiarmid at Bunker Studios in Brooklyn, is excellent. I could have used a little less reverb, but I stress the word little; it's not a problem.

That said, I hope the band records another live album. I've seen them play a few times at the Village Vanguard, and their joyous virtuosity—the way they egg each other on to new levels—must have something to do with their feeling egged on by the audience. I don't hear quite that flair of ecstasy even on this album.

crenca's picture

As an owner of several Dave, Joe, and Linda albums I thought this would be a slam dunk for me. I do like the sound, the playing, etc. but the music itself is just not doing it for me.

I will come back to it, perhaps it will grow on me.

Allen Fant's picture

Another great review- FK.
Big Joe Lovano fan here, instant buy. I will have to check out this group's 1st disc as well.

Ovation123's picture

I added this to my Apple Music library to check it out. Will definitely be getting a lossless version when I have time. Even in Apple Music form, it sounds great. I especially like the drummer's playing. Sent the reference to a good buddy of mine (huge fan of jazz and a skilled enough multi-instrument musician who could, if he wanted to quit his day job, easily make a living at it). He was equally impressed.

These days, I'm not in the gear buying phase (too many other things on my plate, plus I like the gear I have) but finding musical gems like this one keeps me coming back to the site regularly.