Kids pairs innovative old-timer Hank Jones, 88, with New York saxaphonist Joe Lovano, by comparison a mere kid at 54. Jones was one of the first pianists to bridge the gap between stride and bebop in the 40s, honing his chops along side bebop master Charlie Parker. Lovano, a post-Coltrane sax player, served his apprenticeship in the 70s and 80s under the likes of Woody Herman and Mel Lewis; jazz critic Gary Giddins calls him a “bop player with a predilection for free jazz.” The pair recorded the album live at Manhattan’s Coco-Club; their third joint effort in four years, it mixes bop and pop, including three compositions by Hank’s brother, the late Thad Jones, and two original pieces.
Lovano says he learned to play listening to records that feature Hank with the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Cannon Ball Adderly, John Coltrane and Milt Jackson, but Jones plays the supporting role on this album.
The two players represent different phases of jazz’s evolution, but they share a common ground: bebop, and the album is more of a respectful tribute to that tradition than an attempt to break new ground. Lovano’s full sound and textural lines set the pace, while Hank’s harmonic decisions set the parameters within which Lovano is permitted to romp. Hank usually takes a few choruses on each song with out Lovano, and even gets tracks nine and ten–Oh, What a Beautiful Morning and Oh! Look at Me Know! –all to himself. Lovano introduces the following number, Monk’s Four in One, a capella in a few delightful measures that bring to mind Sonny Rollins’ beloved solo performances, and make the listener wish the album included more of the same. It is fitting that both Lovano and Jones stretch their playing rhythmically and harmonically on this tune, in ways that Monk himself might have appreciated. It’s also one of those rare instances when a drummerless group swings; this is largely due to Jones’ bounce and impeccable sense of time, which he might have inherited from the old stride players he learned from as a child or the great drummers he’s played with over the years, which include his brother, Elvin Jones.
The Duo manages to express a range of emotion that most quartets can’t find. The bop tunes keep their spunk , the pop tunes keep their heart, and the ballads weep. Lovano switches from the hard, dry sound (reminiscent of Rollins and Redman) on the bop and swing tunes like Budo, to the low, quivering moan of Ben Webster on ballads like Todd Dameron’s Soultrane and Latouch & Morass’ Lazy Afternoon. Hank Jones stays true to the originals without succumbing to cliché (after all, he was around before most of them were written). His accompaniments are the perfect playground for Lovano, who must at times be tempted to close his eyes and imagine that he’s sitting in his living room, playing along to the records he listened to when he was a kid.