I think of Joe Lovano as the saxophonist of the decade; next week he returns to town with a band all but guaranteed to prove my point. Lovano will lead a pianoless trio: an open, naked format that places extra and extraordinary demands on a horn player, forcing him not only to lead but also to be the band’s entire front line. But Lovano often seems to shoulder that responsibility, even when his sax shares the footlights with other melody instruments–an occupational hazard of his heady solo concept and his richly tiered sound. The depth of his explorations puts most other saxophonists in the backseat. Still, one needn’t trash his colleagues in order to fully measure Lovano’s stature. Lovano’s style represents a summation–as opposed to a hodgepodge–of post-1960 saxophone styles. You can certainly trace his debt to the music (and even more, the inspiration) of John Coltrane; these days, as I increasingly enjoy the gracefully gnarled improvisations and the fuzzy logic with which Lovano finds such intriguing paths between A and B, I’m especially aware of the part that Joe Henderson must have played in his development. But beyond that, forget trying to assemble the stylistic family tree, because Lovano has put it all together in too original a fashion. You never doubt Lovano’s humanity when you hear him play; it finds voice in that burry, organic tone and in his rhythmic looseness as he slips and slides between the cracks in the beat. Lovano’s discography ranges wide enough to approach absurdity: from the 24-karat soul of John Scofield’s band to Paul Motian’s spaceball projects of the mid-80s; from his own somewhat experimental octet to the bop-oriented two-tenor triumph he recorded a couple years ago with Joshua Redman (Tenor Legacy on Blue Note). For this gig he enjoys the company of two younger players in drummer Tony Reedus and the hugely talented bassist Anthony Cox, who establishes the beat with a large, dark sonic footprint and solos like a very deep-voiced angel. Tuesday through next Sunday, September 24, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Guy Aroch.