Saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano returns to the small band format with a group of younger musicians on this album, calling themselves Us Five. Lovano plays a wide range of reed instruments and joining him are James Weidman on piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass and Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela on drums and percussion. The album was recorded after a week long residency at the Village Vanguard in New York City and has a spontaneous and free-wheeling feel. My favorite tracks on the album were the the more uptempo ones like the opener, "Powerhouse" which was a short but potent performance featuring a strong tenor saxophone improvisation and solid support from the band. "Dibango" has Lovano playing a double saxophone instrument called a aulochrome, which is sort of like two soprano saxophones mixed together with a little keypad in the middle. It makes some cool sounds, harmonizing with itself and soloing, getting a flavor much like Rahsaan Roland Kirk when he played multiple saxophones simultaneously. This track was the highlight of the album for me - the music is bright and energetic, and Lovano sounds as excited as a child with a new toy. "Eterno" is a wide open tune that recalls the loft jazz of the 1970's where the orthodoxy of hard bop met up with the energy of the avant garde in interesting communal improvisation. Much of the rest of the album is given to spacious and at times tentative performances. This is still a fairly new group, and I got the sense that the musicians were still feeling the need to tip-toe around each other so not to invade anyone else's space.
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