The first edition of Joe Lovano's Trio Fascination featured Dave Holland on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Following the album's release in 1998, however, Lovano's live shows featured the less famous but equally muscular bass/drum team of Cameron Brown and Idris Muhammad. On Trio Fascination, Vol. 2, the Lovano/Brown/Muhammad unit is only one of four trio configurations that the saxophonist employs. Taking the trio concept beyond the traditional confines of horn, bass, and drums, Lovano takes a left turn and colors this album with continually changing instrumentation. Trio one is Lovano, Brown, and Muhammad. Trio two features the leader with Billy Drewes on soprano saxophone and alto flute and Joey Baron on drums; trio three with Toots Thielemans on harmonica and Kenny Werner on piano; and trio four with Dave Douglas on trumpet and Mark Dresser on bass. (The trios change unpredictably from track to track, sort of like a CD player in shuffle mode.) Varying the instrumentation even further, Lovano, like on volume one, switches from among his arsenal of horns: tenor, straight alto, soprano, and C-melody saxes, as well alto and bass clarinets. On "206," he modifies trio four by playing drums behind Douglas and Dresser, and on "Blue Mist" he begins with gongs to supplement Muhammad's percussion textures. In two instances, the trios change during the very course of the tune. "Bougainvillea" (by Lovano's wife, vocalist Judi Silvano) starts with trio one and in the last two or so minutes segues to an impressionistic ending featuring trio three. "On Giant Steps," based on the groundbreaking Coltrane chord changes, proceeds in the opposite direction: Trio three solos freely and simultaneously, then passes the baton to trio one, which launches into a swing tempo -- far slower than is usual for the tune, but no less burning.
One of Lovano's first high-profile projects was an unorthodox trio with guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Paul Motian. The saxophonist's association with Drewes and Baron dates back to the early '70s. So Lovano's "trio fascination" has deep roots, and the music on this record is a cumulative and probably near-exhaustive survey of his abilities within the form. One only need contrast "Hot Shot" or "Flights of Fancy" or the obscure McCoy Tyner ballad "Aisha" (all trio one) with modernist, offbeat abstractions like "Amber" and "Amsterdam" by trio four, or "Off and Runnin'" by trio two, to get an idea of Lovano's artistic range. Fans looking for more of the hard-driving, free-spirited swing of the first Trio Fascination record will find it here in smaller doses. And those who got their first taste of Lovano with 2000's neo-bop nonet record 52nd Street Themes ought to be prepared for something very different.