Joe Lovano Us Five | Bird Songs

 Blue Note (2011)
By JON GARELICK  |  January 11, 2011
3.5 3.5 Stars

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It's worth taking Lovano's word that this is not a Charlie Parker "tribute" album. Yes, nine of the 11 pieces are by Parker, and the other two have heavy Bird associations. But Lovano and Us Five (pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela) use Parker as a starting point. A favorite device is to take a single riff from Parker and work it. So they extract a phrase from the end of the theme of "Passport" and use it as an intro — repeated eight times over a Latin rhythm — before digging into the tune. "Barbados" gets an appropriate island beat before Lovano goes on to make the inevitable Sonny Rollins connection — not just in the calypso lilt, but in Rollins's own particular slurred phrasing. The sprightly "Donna Lee" is slowed way down with a different rhythmic attack that makes it in essence a new composition. And "Blues Collage" is just that: three Parker themes played in overlapping counterpoint by the band. Sticking mostly to his usual tenor sax instead of adopting Parker's alto, Lovano isolates the strands of Parker's musical DNA and shows how they're part of the music's ongoing regeneration. And lest you think this is all academic hoo-ha, check "Yardbird Suite," one of Lovano's most affecting ballad performances on disc.

  Topics: CD Reviews , Music, Charlie Parker, Esperanza Spalding,  More more >
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