February 25, 2013


Joe Lovano Us Five Cross Culture
Thomas Conrad

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.

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