January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

Joe Lovano

Over the last few years the gentle heft and dazzling fluidity of Joe Lovano’s tenor saxophone have become one of the wonders of jazz. At 44, the Cleveland native is at his peak, and the bigger the canvas, the better. This beautifully textured salute to the greatest pop singer of all time is, in a word, great.

Marshaling a small ensemble of strings, horns, saxophones and other woodwinds, veteran arranger Manny Albam has drawn from the legacy of early Sinatra arrangers Alex Stordahl and Gordon Jenkins to create an elysian landscape in which the burly-sounding Lovano can romp and, at the top of his range, skitter. The songs are all familiar yet freshly imagined. You won’t hear a better “Imagination” or “All the Way,” which Lovano frees from the usual sug-arcoating. “Chicago” is done as a duet with drums in a tumbling style that dips into Coltrane complexity. “One for My Baby” becomes more than a blinking neon glimmer on the melting cubes of another highball. Lovano does what Sinatra did. He raises it to tragedy. (Blue Note)

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