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The third album by this star-studded quintet, conceived in 2015 as a loose homage to Wayne Shorter, features 10 finely crafted originals — five each by tenor man Lovano and trumpeter Douglas — most of which bear Wayne’s fingerprints. The tunes act as launching pads for inspired solos and band interplay throughout a generous 70 minutes. Pianist Lawrence Fields proves the equal of his more celebrated front-line mates — and gets equal time — fingers dancing artfully across the keys. Bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Joey Baron lay down nimble support and consistently steer the music into ever more compelling terrain.
The two leaders complement each other both as instrumentalists and composers. Lovano’s pieces tend to be more angular, Douglas’s more flowing. Each of them put their Wayne hat on for this project, so it would take expert ears to sort out who wrote what. The subtle differences in their compositional styles create unique improvisational avenues for the players while providing continuity. There’s never any doubt that these five musicians are playing from different pages of the same book.
The pieces morph as the improvisation gets underway. Douglas’s fat, brassy sound is a backward-looking anomaly in a post-Miles trumpet world. Kudos to him. Lovano deftly builds tenor narratives with sleek runs, jagged bursts, discordant exclamations and more.
The quintet recorded Other Worlds in Brooklyn on January 31, 2020 after a weeklong engagement at the Village Vanguard. Those gigs clearly fine-tuned their group telepathy. Thankfully, they got the session in just under the Covid wire. Given its instrumentation and concept, the Soundprints assemblage begs comparison to Miles’s Great Quintet of the 1960s, the greatest small group in the history of jazz. Let’s just say that Lovano, Douglas and company stack up way better than most.