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On Cross Culture, Lovano also uses a G-mezzo soprano, which is in the key of G and is between an alto and a soprano saxophone, as well as the taragato, a Hungarian folk instrument for which the fingering is between that of a clarinet and a saxophone. "It's in the soprano range," he says, "but it vibrates very differently, because it's wood and it has a real earthy feel."
Cross Culture likewise has a somewhat earthy, organic feel while still having its roots in jazz. The last song on the album, "PM," is dedicated to drummer Paul Motian, whom Lovano started playing with in 1981 (when Motian was 50 and Lovano was 29) until near the drummer's death in November 2011. On "PM," Lovano says, he tried to write a structure and a form that covered a lot of ground.
"In that one piece, we're playing a very bright tempo, we're playing a blues, we're playing a ballad," he explains. "And we just have to improvise and create those moods as we're moving along, the way Paul was such a master at. I think we really created a beautiful tapestry of sequences throughout that piece."
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While growing up in Cleveland, Lovano says, he had a lot of albums with Motian drumming on them and heard him play with Keith Jarrett. "He was the link with the modern jazz world, really, because he was tight with Elvin Jones and Philly Joe Jones," says Lovano. "And through the years, especially the beginning years, in the early '80s, we played a lot of festivals in Europe with Max Roach's band and folks like that. So I had a chance to be heard by the masters like that and hear them and know them on a personal level. You can't put into words what you carry away from things like that."
Lovano's experience of performing and recording with Motian over a thirty-year period no doubt inspired him, but he says he's also been influenced by a lot of different saxophone players over the years, from Lester Young and Ben Webster to Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp.
Lovano, who celebrated his sixtieth birthday in December, is gearing up for two big shows to celebrate his sixth decade, including two nights at New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center in February and a gig at the Tri-C Jazz Festival in Cleveland that includes his brothers Anthony and Carl as well as his wife, vocalist Judi Silvano.
"My whole thing with birthdays is projections and reflections, and that's how I've been living through the years," Lovano concludes. "This was a nice one. I have a lot of beautiful things to reflect on."