Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Joe Lovano Us5 - Bird Songs (Blue Note, 2011)

Multi saxophonist Joe Lovano began his unique two drummer band Us5 a few years ago, releasing their first unsettled album on Blue Note last year. Touring and greater familiarity with each other has led the band to the music of Charlie Parker, not a tribute exactly, but an exploration of Parker themes brought into the present day. The band sounds tightly focused on this album, consisting of Lovano on saxophones and reed instruments, James Weidman on piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass, and Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela on drums and percussion. “Passport” opens the album with a medium/up tempo swing feel. The band alternates between a graceful swing and speeding bop phrases to give the music a dynamic feel. Parker’s “Donna Lee” is slowed down with the two drummers gently criss crossing. Lovano’s ballad saxophone patiently weaves a fine performance. The music further develops light and spritely on “Barbados” and strong and muscular on “Moose the Mooche” which builds a feeling of freedom with excellent interplay. “Lover Man” finds Lovano on soprano saxophone weaving and rippling around chatty percussion on a nicely paced performance. The fast and knotty melody of “Birdyard” is handled with great facility, and the leader solos on the double-soprano horn called aulochrome which has a fascinating pinched buzzing sound that is unusual and exotic. Teasing the familiar melody of “Ko Ko” Weidman lays out to offer a spacious open ended feel. The two drummers are the focus of “Dewey Square” getting a dexterous feature of their own before Spalding solos over piano accompaniment. The album is wrapped up with a lengthy version of “Yardbird Suite” which begins as a nicely developed ballad, building into a classy performance featuring fine piano and bass interludes. Joe Lovano has played in many different situations from big band to free trio, but it seems that bebop is the music that touches him the most. With this band of young, hungry musicians, he is able to explore the mysteries and subtleties of bebop and view the language of jazz with fresh eyes. Bird Songs -

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