Tribe of Joe: Saxophonist Joe Lovano and His Us Five Band

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Friday February 15, 2013


Tribe of Joe: Saxophonist Joe Lovano and His Us Five Band
By: Larry Blumenfeld

Were Joe Lovano to play only tenor saxophone and perform solely in bands led by other musicians, he’d be an indispensable and original voice on jazz’s landscape. But on his 23 recordings for the Blue Note label, and for several years prior, Lovano, who is now 60, has been both a centered soul grounded in core jazz traditions and a seeker unafraid to explore musical extremes. His breathy, broad, and sometimes dark-toned tenor saxophone sound seems simultaneously comforting and radical. His solos often bear a clarity that is slowly revealed and thus especially rewarding. His connections to other musicians have blended compassion with challenge and spanned styles and ages. With the late drummer Paul Motian, in a trio that spanned 30 years, Lovano (along with guitarist Bill Frisell) grew from mentee to collective partner. At one point several years ago, Lovano was playing duets with the great pianist Hank Jones (their wonderful 2007 duet CD, ‘Kids,’ was recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s club when Jones was 89). Around that same time, Lovano was also planting the seeds for his current Us Five band, and helping usher bassist Esperanza Spalding, then still in college, toward her fast-rising career.

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