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.
Tony Joe White, the original swamp rocker, continues to garner critical acclaim; his songwriting skills have only sharpened over the years and he remains a potent force. It was by combining country, rock and funky blue-eyed soul for his 1969 Top 10 Hit 'Polk Salad Annie' that White established his credentials. His album Dangerous was released Columbia Records in 1983, which featured the country hits 'The Lady in My Life' and 'We Belong Together'.
Although André Previn had not recorded a regular jazz album in 27 years at this point in time (discounting a pair of Itzhak Perlman sessions featuring Previn's compositions), the great majority of the performances on this trio set with guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Ray Brown are first takes. Previn took time off from his busy schedule in the classical music world to return briefly to jazz, his first love. The results are often magical. Previn, Pass and Brown play together as if they had been touring as a group for years. The pianist is generous with solo space and Pass' solos are sometimes exhilarating. For Previn, it is as if the previous three decades did not occur for he plays in a style little changed from 1960, displaying an Oscar Peterson influence mixed in with touches of Lennie Tristano and Bill Evans.