Viva Caruso is easily one of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano's most ambitious and enjoyable recordings. Much like Terence Blanchard's Jazz in Film or Uri Caine's Urlicht/Primal Light, Viva Caruso finds the reedman adapting orchestral melodies and harmonies to a jazz format. Inspired after reading a biography about Italian tenor and opera legend Enrico Caruso, Lovano spent most of 2000 through 2001 researching Caruso's music and developing this project. There is a progressive, third stream appeal to Viva Caruso, with the various instruments laying down intricate counter-melodies and liquid, pulsating rhythms. For example, "Vesto La Giubba" from Pagliacci is slowed down here into a kind of folk-jazz meditation, not unlike something Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio might do. Likewise, "Campane a Sera" features a pretty flute introduction to a very mid-'50s, Stan Kenton-style arrangement, and Gerald Wilson could very easily have scored "Soltano a Te" with its characteristically West Coast, neo-phonic horn sounds. Not wanting to merely focus on the arias Caruso is famous for, Lovano reworks many of the songs the singer recorded that are compiled on the Nimbus CD Caruso in Song. Most of these sides were originally arranged with a small wind ensemble, a format which Lovano employs on the original composition "Streets of Naples," a street party-like tango featuring accordion accents. One of the real revelations on the album is how comfortably much of Caruso's popular oeuvre adjusts to jazz improvisation. "Santa Lucia," with its tropical-island carnival atmosphere, features Lovano in a tenor, bass, and drum format reminiscent of Saxophone Colossus-era Sonny Rollins. Similarly, the spirit of Joe Henderson permeates the airy and lithe "O Sole Mio."
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar