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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs

It's hard to believe, but Joe Lovano has made almost two dozen albums for Blue Note.  And, depending on your taste for certain gimmicks (such as jazz versions of operatic arias), there hasn't been a stinker in the bunch.  Lovano is a premiere saxophonist with a unique tone and a brilliant imagination.

It's hard to believe that, until now, he had never truly taken on the legacy of Charlie Parker.  My PopMatters review is HERE.

Bird Songs features Lovano's recent working quintet, "Us Five," featuring James Weidman on piano (with the best work of his career), Esperanza Spalding on bass (yup, the new jazz star, as a sidewoman), Otis Brown on drums, and Francisco Mela also on drums.  This is not a fleet and nimble unit exactly—they prefer crazier, earthier arrangements, tunes where they can play a little bit bop but also quite a bit free.

On this disc, Lovano's pulls apart these classic Bird tunes (or tunes associated with him) and remakes them fundamentally.  "Passport" and "Moose the Mooche" use short riffs from the original tunes as written to create new structures over which the whole melody turns.  "Birdyard" and "Blue Collage" are original mash-ups of Parker tunes that weave melodies or parts of melodies together in utterly original ways.  And "Koko" lets the saxophonist play mostly free over percussion in an improvised deconstruction of the original.

There are more conventional takes here as well.  "Lover Man" and "Donna Lee" are straight but swinging, with the latter never stating the melody but just licensing Lovano to play like Coleman Hawkins (that is, with unparalleled melodic invention) and the former being a powerful stroll on the new "G Mezzo Soprano" saxophone.

Joe Lovano and his band are a great unit.  This is their second outing for Blue Note.  May there be more.

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