Cross Culture

Cross Culture Reviews

On Cross Culture : In an article on 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.)

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Katie Bishop

I expected Joe Lovano, after an association dating back to 1981, to offer tribute to Paul Motian — the legend who died just two months before the saxist began Cross Culture. Instead, Lovano begins with a sun-drenched burst of joy.

“Blessings in May” swings with a floorboard-rearranging verve, as Lovano switches from tenor to G-mezzo horns alongside pianist James Weidman, bassists Peter Slavov and Esperanza Spalding and drummers Francisco Mela (on the left) and Otis Brown III (on the right). Their tornadic polyrhythms — ever moving, ever surprising, yet also ever in tandem — give the song this layered sense of blissful exaltation.

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Nick DeRiso

On Cross Culture : 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.

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New York Times

Ben Ratliff and Jon Caramanica

On Cross Culture : 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

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Cleveland Plain Dealer

Chuck Yarborough

On Cross Culture : 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.

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Chicago Reader

Peter Margasak

On Cross Culture : 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.

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Guardian (UK)

John Fordham

On Cross Culture :
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.

Jazz Times

Thomas Conrad