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Joe Lovano 

Wednesday-Saturday, March 1-4; Backstage Bistro

As the title of Joe Lovano's 1998 recording Trio Fascination (Blue Note) indicates, the acclaimed sax player has a special relationship with the trio format. He grew up in Cleveland, where he learned the ins and outs of saxophone from his father, Tony "Big T" Lovano, and often worked in local trios. After attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, the younger Lovano's first high-profile gigs were in organ trios led by Jack McDuff and Lonnie Liston Smith.

Lovano has gone on to work with the Woody Herman and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big bands and has worked in settings ranging from two tenor-sax groups featuring Joshua Redman and Greg Osby, a duet session with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and the small-orchestra setting of 1995's great Rush Hour. But it's clear that Lovano remains drawn to the freewheeling trio format -- and that's how he'll be presenting his music this week at Jazz at the Bistro.

At his Backstage Bistro sets, Lovano will be working with bassist Cameron Brown -- who has played with the likes of Archie Shepp, Don Pullen and Dewey Redman -- and drummer Otis Brown III. And if a bass/drums/sax trio sounds as if it could be a bit limited in terms of sound variety, think again. On his Trio Fascination CD, Lovano used tenor, alto and soprano saxes, as well as alto clarinet, to keep things fresh and interesting -- and there's no telling what other instruments he might bring along to the Bistro.

In addition, Lovano has gone way beyond traditional trio repertoire for inspiration on his own trio explorations -- specifically the classic mid-'60s Miles Davis quintet that included Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. "There was a lot of trio action in there, a lot of the band breaking down into trio units," Lovano says on the liner notes to the record. "Miles gave me a lot of courage to play trio, there were actually three separate trios in that band at times."

Add Lovano's powerhouse technique and his penchant for edgy improvisation to his instrumental versatility, and it adds up to an intimate, can't-miss gig for any fan of world-class jazz saxophone.

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