Wednesday February 20, 2013
Joe Lovano Us Five
The Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center)*
Generally speaking, the bigger the band, the more support a soloist has. But leave it to saxophonist Joe Lovano to expand his group in a way that makes him work harder: Us Five, which has just released its third album, “Cross Culture,” features two drummers (Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela), two bassists (Peter Slavov and superstar Esperanza Spalding), pianist James Weidman and, on some tracks, guitarist Lionel Loueke, who becomes a de facto second keyboardist. It’s essentially a double quartet with the iron-skeletoned Mr. Lovano filling the roles of two sax players at once, especially when he plays the amazing aulochrome. You’re not only seeing double when you look on the bandstand at the Allen Room, you’re hearing double—a music that seems to exist firmly in two places at once, within the rules of bebop harmonies and yet somehow completely free-form, controlled and totally open-ended.
In addition to the “Cross Culture” album, Blue Note has also made available a video of Mr. Lovano and Us Five playing the opening track, “Blessings in May” (filmed live at the Mint in Los Angeles), and the two performances are so different that it’s hard to believe they’re the same tune. The live performance opens with a dramatic unaccompanied cadenza, which leads into a fast bop number; it’s several segments into the piece before we hear anything that resembles the recording. On camera, the composition is notable for the way it touches on so many different ideas; there are parts when Mr. Lovano just cuts loose and goes into business for himself, but other spots where he reins himself in to interact with one or another in the band.
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