CD Review: Joe Lovano UsFive – Cross Culture

Joe Lovano UsFive – Cross Culture
(Blue Note 509996 38761 2 3. CD Review by Chris Parker)
‘You have to try to develop a sound. Without a sound, all you have is notes.’ Thus Joe Lovano, talking to me in London in 1990. He also credited his father’s record collection – ‘he had Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt, so I learned from an early age about developing a personality with music rather just copying one kind of player, really trying to find your own sound …’ – and being taken by him (Tony, ‘Big T’ Lovano) to gigs at 13 – ‘playing, sitting in. He’d leave me on the bandstand alone with his rhythm section and I was studying tunes all the time; at 13 I could call the key and count them off’ – with instilling the essentials of a musical career into him.

Lovano has been recording now for nearly 40 years (his first album, Aphrodisiac for a Groove Merchantwas made in 1974 under the leadership of Lonnie Liston Smith) and Cross Culture is his 23rd Blue Note album, but ‘really trying to find your own sound’ is still the core concern of his art: ‘I want a sound with fast brightness in it, but I also want a deep, round tone [and] to have a wide range of dynamics, colours.’

Consequently, throughout this rich, varied but consistently musicianly, cultured, elegant album, Lovano deploys his unique smoky warble, with its hard-edged throaty rasp, to stunning effect on his trademark tenor, but also plays G-mezzo soprano, tárogáto or aulochrome (two sopranos played together) where the particular piece can profit from a different sound.

In this quest for individuality and musical integrity, Lovano has surrounded himself with a dream band – guitarist Lionel Loueke, pianist James Weidman, bassists Esperanza Spalding and Peter Slavov, drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela – and written nine originals (culminating in ‘PM’, a touching tribute to the late Paul Motian, with whom Lovano frequently collaborated from 1981 onwards) which, in their simultaneous mining of the tradition and pushing against its boundaries, constitute a master class in small-group jazz.

Lovano says of Loueke, ‘he doesn’t just play guitar, he freely integrates himself with the rhythm section and with me in the front line, and shares the space in a personal way’; he also sums up the musical appeal of this album perfectly by saying, of ‘PM’, it ‘combines the harmonic and rhythmic structures of modern jazz in a free-flowing way, with a tribal energy, tying together things about the world of music, beyond just categories of jazz’. A hugely ambitious but stunningly realised album from a great master.

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