RICK’S PICKS: Joe Lovano w/ Us Five: Cross Culture (Blue Note Records) / Bassists: Esperanza Spalding, Peter Slavov
The Album: This is Lovano’s third consecutive release with his Us Five group, following 2009’s Folk Art and 2011’s Bird Songs, and it is a brilliant work that highlights the ensemble’s improvisational telepathy and Joe’s masterful compositional style in this setting. Like their previous two outings, what makes Us Five particularly unique is the rhythmic pallet of two drummers (panned here left and right), as Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela seem to play together as if they were a single drummer with four arms and four legs. Adding to the sonic mix this time around is the welcome addition of guest guitarist Lionel Loueke.
Of course, Lovano’s masterful tenor leads the way throughout, and on several others ( “Golden Horn”, “Drum Chant”) he adds his soprano sax as well. From start to finish, Cross Culture is nothing short of a fascinating, in-the moment musical conversation among its players . Ten of the album’s eleven tracks are new Lovano originals, with the lone exception a nicely reworked cover of Billy Strayhorn’s “Star Crossed Lovers”. While some tunes are more free-form in nature, such as “Myths And Legends” and “Journey Within”, others are a bit more sketched out, like “Blessings In May” and “Modern Man”. Regardless, there is such a strong element of spontaneity and improvisation on every tune that one senses that when performed live, they would probably sound dramatically different each time.
The Bassists: Us Five member Esperanza Spalding is on hand again, but this time shares the workload with bassist Peter Slavov. Both display their exceptional talents, and Esperanza’s elegant solo on “Star Crossed Lovers” is a particular delight. Spalding plays on tracks 1, 5 and 10, while Peter appears on tracks 2,3,4,9 and 11, and both bassists play together on track 8.
Best Tracks: “In A Spin”, “Drum Chant”, “Modern Man”, “Cross Culture”
Joe Lovano: Cross Culture is available at Amazon.com.