The quintet has never sounded more adventurous or more comfortable

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Monday April 22, 2013


Joe Lovano Us Five

Over the course of his fruitful career, great postbop saxophonist Joe Lovano has made lots of concept records’“paying tribute to a classic jazz album or a particular player, for instance, or taking inspiration from vocalists such as Frank Sinatra or Enrico Caruso’“but he’s at his best when he focuses on his prodigious skills as an improviser. That’s what his band Us Five lets him do, and on its third album, Cross Culture (Blue Note), the quintet has never sounded more adventurous or more comfortable. Drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela have developed an amazing rapport’“as though they’re a single body with eight limbs and two brains’“and they create wide-open polyrhythmic gullies into which Lovano and pianist James Weidman can pour their solos. Lovano delivers a lyrical take on Ellington and Strayhorn’s ‘Star Crossed Lovers,’ the only tune on the record he didn’t write himself; the way he strips it down for maximum malleability is a perfect example of the vitality and pliability that makes Us Five tick. Original bassist Esperanza Spalding appears on four tracks of Cross Culture, but tonight she’s replaced by Peter Slavov’“he plays on the rest of the record, and in her absence he’s become the band’s working bassist.

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