I can’t complain for a moment about the trio that saxist Joe Lovano brings to town for his annual Jazz Showcase visit. His drummer, Idris Muhammad, has a deceptively messy, soul-smeared kit sound that never quite obscures the precision of his backbeats or the crisp chatter of his cymbals; powerhouse bassist Cameron Brown plays with such depth and fervor that he could legitimately stand in for Charles Mingus, in Mingus’s own band, after the master died in 1979. Together Brown and Muhammad can conjure a variety of textures and timbres worthy of a chamber orchestra. But this group may look a little lonely onstage in light of Lovano’s latest effort, Flights of Fancy (Blue Note): subtitled Trio Fascination Edition Two, it in fact features four separate trios, of which his traveling group is one. The other configurations stretch the idea of this smallest of jazz bands into different and welcome territory, eliciting varying aspects of Lovano’s towering musicianship by placing his saxes (and alto clarinet) alongside a second sax and drums, trumpet and bass, or piano and harmonica. Still, the traditional bass-drums-sax trio remains the most liberating format for Lovano’s tenor, which walks a high wire between mainstream conception and postfreedom technique. He creates a juggernaut of tough-love lyricism, making his solos clearly accessible to traditional listeners while playing the harmonic edges, finding angled, shadowed niches that suit his husky tone and burred articulation. In part because he hit the scene in the 70s but didn’t see much recognition till the 90s, Lovano has developed an artistic maturity that allows him to pack his playing with a heady combination of now and then; he mines his extensive, often firsthand knowledge of jazz history to haul even the oldest references into the present. Tuesday through Thursday, April 17 though 19, 8 and 10 PM; next Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21, 9 and 11 PM; and next Sunday, April 22, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.


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