Cross Culture

Blue Note/2013
Cross-Culture
  • 1. Blessings In May
    2. Myths And Legends
    3. Cross Culture
    4. In A Spin
    5. Star Crossed Lovers
    6. Journey Within
    7. Drum Chant
    8. Golden Horn
    9. Royal Roost
    10. Modern Man
    11. PM

Joe Lovano, Saxophones, Percussion
James Weidman, Piano
Esperanza Spalding, Bass
Otis Brown III, Drums
Francisco Mela, Drums

On January 8, 2013, saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano will release Cross Culture, his 23rd Blue Note recording and the third consecutive release by his critically acclaimed quintet, Us Five. To celebrate the album’s release, Lovano will be taking Us Five out on an 11-city U.S. tour that launches January 19 and includes shows at The Mint in Los Angeles (January 22) and Yoshi’s in Oakland (January 24-26) before culminating with two nights at The Allen Room at Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York City (February 22-23).

Cross Culture is an 11-track tour de force that presents 10 of Lovano’s original compositions along with a stunning interpretation of the Billy Strayhorn ballad “Star Crossed Lovers.” Augmenting his core group (pianist James Weidman, bassists Esperanza Spalding or Peter Slavov, and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela) with the daring West African guitarist – and fellow Blue Note artist – Lionel Loueke, Lovano delivers his most fully realized representation of a career-long quest to explore the notion of universal musical language.

“Since I started to tour in the late ‘70s, I’ve collected instruments from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, and North and South America,” says Lovano, who, in addition to his instantly recognizable tenor saxophone, improvises on G-mezzo soprano, tarogato, and aulochrome, and plays an array of percussion – bells and shakers, an Israeli paddle drum, and a Nigerian slit drum called an oborom. “I’ve spent a lifetime feeling the passion of experiencing the spirits in the sounds of the collective ancestors in these instruments, creating music but feeling like the earth. It’s coming through in my compositions and in the way we play together.”

Loueke, who himself combines exhaustive knowledge of harmony and folk forms, contributes seamlessly and egolessly to six pieces. “Lionel doesn’t just play the guitar,” Lovano says. “He freely integrates himself with the rhythm section and with me in the front line, and shares the space in a personal way.”

" In an article on Salon.com last week titled "Did the American songbook kill jazz?," arts reporter Scott Timberg explores the… read more" " In an article on Salon.com last week titled "Did the American songbook kill jazz?," arts reporter Scott Timberg explores the genre's reliance on standards — and the idea that constant (and often mediocre) recycling of old familiars like "Autumn Leaves" and "Stardust" has perhaps been the poison slowly sapping the energy out of jazz and its audience for the past forty years. Judging by his latest album and his most recent work with his quintets Us Five and Sound Prints (co-led by trumpeter Dave Douglas), it seems that tenor sax player and composer Joe Lovano may have reached similar conclusions. Cross Culture, his third release with Us Five, is made up almost entirely of original compositions — a return to form for the group, whose first album, Folk Art, also eschewed standards in favor of new works. (To be fair, the group's second release, Bird Songs, is hardly a tribute record either — although it included reinterpretations of Charlie Parker standards like "Yardbird Suite," the bulk of the album is made up of imaginative takes on lesser-known compositions from the legendary sax player, who himself was a master of reconfiguring jazz standards of his day.) To read the full article click here" Katie Bishop, WYNC
" Most jazz musicians are flexible: it's a philosophical requirement of the job. At 60, Joe Lovano is an extreme case,… read more" " Most jazz musicians are flexible: it's a philosophical requirement of the job. At 60, Joe Lovano is an extreme case, moving toward universality. Long ago he developed a tenor saxophone sound for his temperament. It rolls and smears and smokes, all width, rhythmic unto itself; it can fit in or accommodate. His starting place is bebop's complex language, but he seems to be listening to something underneath language and style, something that could be well illustrated by jazz but isn't specific to it. He's good with a particular rhythm, or a structure, or a set of changes, but he doesn't need any of it. And so an ideal Joe Lovano performance might be one that sounds good with New York's advanced-harmony killer elite, but that could be effectively cut and pasted over a trap beat or a string quartet or scale exercises or traffic sounds. To read the full article click here" Ben Ratliff and Jon Caramanica , New York Times
" Cleveland-born Joe Lovano occasionally makes it back to his hometown for gigs, and those are always treats for jazz enthusiasts.… read more" " Cleveland-born Joe Lovano occasionally makes it back to his hometown for gigs, and those are always treats for jazz enthusiasts. Sadly, his current schedule, which runs through December 2013, doesn't have a Northeast Ohio date. After listening to his newest release with his Us Five quintet, "Cross Culture," which boasts 10 Lovano-composed songs, here's hoping that changes. Working his way through a variety of saxophones, Lovano and his group showcase a sometimes dissonant, sometimes syncopated, sometimes time-signature-ignoring collection of free-form, listenable jazz. The core group features pianist James Weidman, bassists Esperanza Spalding and Peter Slavov (never together, which would be REALLY interesting), drummers Otis Brown and Francisco Mela and guitarist Lionel Loueke. Truthfully, there are times that Brown and Mela, who DO play together, sometimes overpower the music, but that's because in Lovano's mind ALL instruments are lead instruments. Grade: A To see the original article click here" Chuck Yarborough, Cleveland Plain Dealer
" The saxophonist Joe Lovano has regularly spoken of his malleable quintet Us Five as a band that’s capable of doing… read more" " The saxophonist Joe Lovano has regularly spoken of his malleable quintet Us Five as a band that’s capable of doing and playing anything, and on the group’s brand-new Cross Culture (Blue Note), its third album, that’s never seemed more apparent. The group tackles the Ellington/Strayhorn classic “Star Crossed Lovers,” but the other ten pieces are all Lovano originals-some of which he’s recorded previously in other contexts-yet they all feel more like superflexible settings or structures than rigid compositions, allowing the players great internal latitude. To read the full article click here" Peter Margasak , Chicago Reader
" "Cross Culture" is an album that requires several listenings before a judgment is passed. It is a lean exploration of… read more" " "Cross Culture" is an album that requires several listenings before a judgment is passed. It is a lean exploration of jazz that is not eased by pretty melodies or rich arrangements. Instead, it is a display of the broad range of talents of saxophonist Joe Lovano. With his two-drummer band, Us Five, he explores 10 originals and a look at Billy Strayhorn's "Star-Crossed Lovers." Us Five usually has more than that number, and its personnel changes, mostly in the bass chair shared by Esperanza Spalding and Peter Slavov. Just as the band changes, so does its style. "Royal Roost," for instance, is the more-straight-ahead piece of the album. But "Myths and Legends" opens in a ballad-like fashion before moving into a quicker, polyrhythmic direction. That rhythmic strength is steadily created by drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela. Throughout the album, Lovano plays on tenor and G mezzo-soprano saxes in addition to the new autochrome. He even adds some percussion on "Drum Chant," a showpiece for Brown and Mela. "Cross Culture" is an album that is relentless in its energy. To see the original article click here " Bob Karlovits, Pittsburgh Tribune
" The goatee and barrel-chested frame may be trademarks, but musically, jazz master Joe Lovano is a chameleon. Whether Hammond B3… read more" " The goatee and barrel-chested frame may be trademarks, but musically, jazz master Joe Lovano is a chameleon. Whether Hammond B3 jazz, big band, hard bop, avant garde or world music, Grammy winner Lovano has found his voice through it all for going on five decades now. Wednesday night at Dazzle, Lovano proved he’s in no hurry to slow down after celebrating his 60th birthday last month (nor to give up his orange-, black- and white-striped shirt circa 1988). Lovano’s Us Five band played a challenging 7 p.m. set that had the sellout crowd both engaged and slightly off balance, with fiery bursts from Lovano’s tenor and a rhythm section that included two drummers and fellow Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding on bass. The set drew largely from the band’s three albums together " “Folk Art,” “Bird Songs” and “Cross Culture,” the latter released on the Blue Note label this month. In opener “Us Five,” Lovano chopped the song up into shorter bits with longer pauses while stalking the stage as if in search of reactions from the audience. Pianist James Weidman echoed Lovano’s phrases deftly on “Blessings in May.” Drummers Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III syncopated their beats masterfully during the sharp-angled “In a Spin,” while Lovano played with the tension of the composition, building it and letting it go. To read the full article click here" Sam DeLeo, Heyreverb.com
" The first two months of this year, circumstances have made it difficult for this writer to produce any full reviews… read more" " The first two months of this year, circumstances have made it difficult for this writer to produce any full reviews of the fine albums that have been released up to this point. So, here’s a quick look at some of the best. Don’t forget to look for these recordings at Twist and Shout, Denver’s best independent record store. And when these artists come to town, see them at Dazzle, the place I’d rather be than anywhere else on earth. Flash! Big surprise! Joe Lovano put out a great album! This all-star lineup gives you everything. And it couldn’t come from a nicer guy. To see the full list click here" Rob Johnson , Examiner
" Were Joe Lovano to play only tenor saxophone and perform solely in bands led by other musicians, he'd be an… read more" " Were Joe Lovano to play only tenor saxophone and perform solely in bands led by other musicians, he'd be an indispensable and original voice on jazz's landscape. But on his 23 recordings for the Blue Note label, and for several years prior, Lovano, who is now 60, has been both a centered soul grounded in core jazz traditions and a seeker unafraid to explore musical extremes. His breathy, broad, and sometimes dark-toned tenor saxophone sound seems simultaneously comforting and radical. His solos often bear a clarity that is slowly revealed and thus especially rewarding. His connections to other musicians have blended compassion with challenge and spanned styles and ages. With the late drummer Paul Motian, in a trio that spanned 30 years, Lovano (along with guitarist Bill Frisell) grew from mentee to collective partner. At one point several years ago, Lovano was playing duets with the great pianist Hank Jones (their wonderful 2007 duet CD, "Kids," was recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's club when Jones was 89). Around that same time, Lovano was also planting the seeds for his current Us Five band, and helping usher bassist Esperanza Spalding, then still in college, toward her fast-rising career. To read the full article click here" Larry Blumenfeld, Artinfo.com
" Generally speaking, the bigger the band, the more support a soloist has. But leave it to saxophonist Joe Lovano to… read more" " Generally speaking, the bigger the band, the more support a soloist has. But leave it to saxophonist Joe Lovano to expand his group in a way that makes him work harder: Us Five, which has just released its third album, “Cross Culture,” features two drummers (Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela), two bassists (Peter Slavov and superstar Esperanza Spalding), pianist James Weidman and, on some tracks, guitarist Lionel Loueke, who becomes a de facto second keyboardist. It’s essentially a double quartet with the iron-skeletoned Mr. Lovano filling the roles of two sax players at once, especially when he plays the amazing aulochrome. You’re not only seeing double when you look on the bandstand at the Allen Room, you’re hearing double-a music that seems to exist firmly in two places at once, within the rules of bebop harmonies and yet somehow completely free-form, controlled and totally open-ended. In addition to the “Cross Culture” album, Blue Note has also made available a video of Mr. Lovano and Us Five playing the opening track, “Blessings in May” (filmed live at the Mint in Los Angeles), and the two performances are so different that it’s hard to believe they’re the same tune. The live performance opens with a dramatic unaccompanied cadenza, which leads into a fast bop number; it’s several segments into the piece before we hear anything that resembles the recording. On camera, the composition is notable for the way it touches on so many different ideas; there are parts when Mr. Lovano just cuts loose and goes into business for himself, but other spots where he reins himself in to interact with one or another in the band. To read the full article click here" Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal
" Saxophonist Joe Lovano’s vast experience gives him a profound awareness of what jazz has been, and feeds a fertile imagination… read more" " Saxophonist Joe Lovano’s vast experience gives him a profound awareness of what jazz has been, and feeds a fertile imagination for what it can be. Cross Culture is more or less the two-drummers band that made the excellent Bird Songs in 2011 with Esperanza Spalding putting in a bass appearance, and gifted west African guitarist Lionel Loueke guesting in a session celebrating idioms and instruments from all over the world. Lovano’s Ornette Coleman-influenced melodic ear runs free against loose-tempo drumming on Myths and Legends, and explores a kind of abstract blues with Loueke on the title track. Some of the music is infectiously asymmetrical swing, some of it borders on free improv, and Royal Roost is a hip mid-tempo blues displaying Lovano’s and pianist James Weidman’s bebop fluency. PM (written for the late drummer Paul Motian) beautifully balances flying sax variations, stop-start blurts, and a simmering, waterfall-like cymbal sound. This music’s structural latticework is often on display, but the playing mostly floats blissfully free of it. To read the original review click here" John Fordham, Guardian (UK)
" Joe Lovano's Us Five is a unique, drummer-intensive band, Francisco Mela in the left channel, Otis Brown III in the… read more" " Joe Lovano's Us Five is a unique, drummer-intensive band, Francisco Mela in the left channel, Otis Brown III in the right. James Weidman and Lionel Loueke (a guest on six tracks) play piano and guitar. Esperanza Spalding, now reconciling sideperson work and her post-Grammy solo career, shares bass duties with Peter Slavov. All fulfill defined ensemble roles in support of Lovano. Everyone contributes to the nuanced group interplay. Their other two Blue Note albums, Folk Art and Bird Songs, sat toward the top of the jazz polls in 2009 and 2011. Cross Culture will make the board in 2013, but probably not at the top. It is a quality project, but in a specialized niche. Lovano seeks "universal musical languages" and "energy that … precedes all the styles in jazz." Layers of percussion, exotic instruments like the tarogato, Loueke's guitar colors from Africa: If we are not in the realm of world music, we are somewhere close." Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times