For the past three decades, Cleveland-born saxophonist Joe Lovano has been the hardest working man in the jazz business, performing and recording in bop, opera and third stream formats and in duo, trio, quartet, nonet and symphonic configurations. But for the last few years, Lovano’s been leading his Us Five quintet, a quicksilver combo consisting of two drummers, Otis Brown, III and the Afro-Cuban rhythm wizard Francisco Mela, pianist James Weidman and the ubergirl bassist Esperanza Spalding (Peter Slavov alternates on bass).
“Everyone is leading and following,” Lovano says in the liner notes of the group’s latest CD Cross Culture, their third recording as a group, and his 23rd. “The double drummer configuration adds this other element of creativity that happens when we’re playing, whatever kind of music it is.”
Lovano and company come to Longwood Gardens performing material from Cross Culture, which features the Charlie Parker–like “Royal Roost,” an evocative take on the Billy Strayhorn ballad “Star-Crossed Lovers,” the drum-centric, cymbal-simmered title track and the call-of-the-wild percussion discussion on “Drum Chant,” which puts Lovano on percussion for good measure. And for those who question Spalding’s jazz cred, her beguiling “Love Supreme” bassline on “Golden Horn” should put that notion to rest.
Lovano plays the entire jazz saxophone tradition on whatever horn he’s blowing, from Ben Webster’s romantic, yet muscular tones and John Coltrane’s dizzying sheets of sound to Ornette Coleman’s oblique and angular phrases. His colleagues not only “go there” with him, but they also create complex and compelling musical dialogues among themselves.
“That’s been the idea from the beginning for me,” Lovano says. It wasn’t just to play at the same time, but to collectively create music within the music.”
Sat., Jan. 19, 8pm. $38-$45. Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Rd., Kennett Square. 610.388.1000. longwoodgardens.org
PW's Music Issue 2014