Album Review

Joe Lovano / Us Five, 'Bird Songs'

January 10, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Saxophonist Joe Lovano has tried on a lot of bands and formats since joining the Blue Note label 20 years ago — duos, trios, quartets, big bands, near-classical ensembles. But his current quintet, Us Five, may be his finest. The band — which features pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela — put out the spectacular “Folk Art’’ in 2009, and now they serve up “Bird Songs,’’ a collection inspired by the work of Charlie Parker. But this is no mere tribute album. Parker’s compositions are not played as he intended (speedily, with torrents of notes); Lovano upends them, infusing them with modern sensibilities. Mostly they are slowed down, which gives the musicians room to roam beneath the chords and rhythms. “Blues Collage,’’ is a jazz mash-up: Lovano, Weidman, and Spalding each play a different Parker tune at the same time, intertwining the melodies into a new song altogether. Lovano says the idea for this project began when Us Five performed in Barbados and broke out a new arrangement of Parker’s “Barbados,’’ one with a Caribbean vibe. The tune is full of enthusiasm, and its ethos — finding something new to say through something familiar — encapsulates why Lovano is now jazz royalty. (Out tomorrow) STEVE GREENLEE

ESSENTIAL “Barbados’’