Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano pays homage to great tenor singer/paisan Enrico Caruso in this engaging reprise of tunes Caruso either made famous or knew from his Naples childhood. Like Lovano's mid-'90s albums Celebrating Sinatra and Rush Hour, Viva Caruso is melodic and romantic, and aims to mainstream material long confined to a particular market. The tunes span the operatic "Vesti la Giubba" from I Pagliacci, the ribald "Tarantella Sincera," and "Il Carnivale di Pulcinella," a three-part suite encompassing a punchy, far-out "Wild Tarantella."
Lovano is, as usual, warm-hearted and engaging. His tone continues to deepen, along with his instinct for popular song. Byron Olson's orchestrations evoke Eddie Sauter and Gil Evans -- and that's a compliment. Besides their wind and string configurations, they feature Lovano's wife, Judi Silvano, on vocals, which gives them an otherworldly feel. Other tracks are more sparse and intimate, and the sequencing pops with surprise. Viva Caruso is accessible and loving, a tribute that puts its stamp on the past by looking forward.