Saxophonist Joe Lovano was nearly 40 before anyone outside his native Cleveland and his adopted hometown of New York became aware of his extraordinary gifts. So by the early 90s, when his work in John Scofield’s high-profile quartet and his own Blue Note recordings started to reach the wider jazz audience, Lovano already had the poise and authority of a veteran. His burry, organic tone was a welcome change from the metallic gleam preferred by many of his contemporaries, and his combination of vivacious intensity and slipstream technique (as demonstrated on a rash of inventive recordings with lineups ranging from pianoless trio to kick-ass nonet) made Lovano the definitive jazz saxophonist of the decade. His first album of the new century, Viva Caruso (Blue Note), is a tribute to Enrico Caruso, the great operatic tenor whose crossover to pop stardom in the early 20th century paved the way for Italian-American crooners such as Sinatra (whose music Lovano explored on a 1996 disc), Bennett, and Como. Since Lovano is the most operatic of saxophonists, numbers like “O sole mio” and “Vesto la giubba ‘I Pagliacci'” make excellent vehicles for his outsize emotions and sidewinder solos, which slide cannily between cracks in the rhythm. The album features several tracks played by Lovano’s “street band,” which takes much the same form as the quintet he’ll bring to Chicago: a standard rhythm section fronted by Lovano’s reeds and the accordion work of Gil Goldstein, which should have you picturing the red-tile roofs of central Italy by the second tune. Saturday, February 22, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

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