Story by Jean Timmons (Mar. 21)
Photos by John Broughton (Mar. 17), Copyright 2010
Joe Lovano came to blow at Joe and Wayne Segal's Jazz Showcase from 17 March through 21 March 2010, and he brought a high-energy group with him. They are billed as Joe Lovano's Us Five and consist of Esperanza Spalding on bass, two drummers - Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela - and pianist James Weidman. Weidman was a stabilizing force. The two-drummer arrangement was provocative, although not totally new. (Miles used two drummers on the Bitches Brew project.) Separately these two would not equal a Lewis Nash but their sheer joie de vivre and musicianship carried the day. Moreover, the way Mela provided the heat for Lovano on one piece reminded me of Elvin driving the Trane. Lovano played tenor and soprano and this strange woodwind instrument called an aulochrome, which consisted of two soprano horns, melded together. But it was not merely trickery; the instrument conveyed the sounds of two horns, like playing a piano duet with the left and right hand. And Spalding may not have the resonant sound of a Gary Peacock, but her sparkling playing fit in divinely with this heavily-centered jazz group.
In his twenties, Lovano came into prominence with recordings of Paul Motian. But he was playing with his father's band while a teen and prior to Motian with Lonnie Liston Smith and Woody Herman. Yet it was the Motian originals, Monk pieces, and Broadway show material, e.g., Misterioso and On Broadway, that brought him recognition. Since then he’s been busily recording. A year or so ago, Lovano was in Chicago with other members of the SF Jazz Collective, playing at Symphony Center. The collective is based on furthering jazz music by supporting creative, innovative musicians. Lovano carries that mission on with this group, hinting that Lovano's motto is probably "Always Be Creative."
On Sunday at the Showcase, Lovano's Us Five played practically nonstop. Except for the announcement of one or two pieces and the indication that most of the music derives from the groups recent cd, Folk Art, the music came in waves. All pieces were original compositions. Lovano played the aulochrome on a piece called "Dibango." And on "Song for Judi," a lovely ballad, I could hear strains of Coltrane's "Dear Lord" and could once again experience the smoky tenor tone of Lovano. The performance was absolutely memorable and the music hard in the tradition of jazz innovation, too, with master Lovano leading a quintet of younger musicians. I noted that I was not the only one humming the melody of their last selection, although all pieces were grand. The big man can blow and many folk will look forward with expectation to their next meeting with Lovano's Us Five.