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Trio Tapestry Reviews

On Trio Tapestry : ​It is entirely characteristic of Joe Lovano, who parted ways with Blue Note Records in 2016 after releasing 25 leader or co-led albums in 26 years, that he would use his ECM debut, ‘Trio Tapestry,’ as an opportunity to introduce a brand-new ensemble.

Joined by pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi, veterans who embody what Lovano calls “the spirit of now” with an attitude of concision, the leader—playing tenor saxophone, tárogató and gongs—presents a meditative, gradually ascendant recital of 11 “episodes.” The musicians navigate an abstract “stream of expression” that Lovano traces to his sixth Blue Note album, ‘Rush Hour,’ a collaboration with Gunther Schuller that topped the Jazz Album category in the 1995 DownBeat Critics Poll and the 1995 DownBeat Readers Poll.

“I’ve been studying and trying to get deep into these concepts since before ‘Rush Hour,’” Lovano continued. “But it started to crystallize when I began writing for this session with Marilyn, whose playing comes from a similar place, and with Carmen, whose approach is so transparent and beautiful—his bass drum and one cymbal are [lead] instruments in themselves. Each piece has a tapestry of interwoven themes and harmonies and rhythmic ideas that make it work.”

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Ted Panken

On Trio Tapestry : Although he acquired a “tenor titan” reputation over the years and started his career gigging in top-tier organ groups that required a huge sound (with Jack McDuff and Lonnie Smith), Lovano has also developed into one of our most introspective saxophonists, armed with a tone that can also be a whisper or a confession. The most introspective jazz record label, ECM, has featured Lovano in the groups of other musicians, but Trio Tapestry is his debut for the label. Playing with ECM stalwart pianist Marilyn Crispell and fellow Cleveland native Carmen Castaldi on drums, Lovano has put together a program of minimal tone poems that explore musical space and its relationship to silence.

[…] This band both rises to the occasion of such lyricism and goes beyond it. Lovano’s sound is utterly his own: woody and personal while still gentle and sumptuous. Crispell could never be mistaken for other ECM pianists of fame, whether Keith Jarrett or Bobo Stenson. She is utterly her own through note choice, phrasing, voicing, and rhythmic temperament’“creating a voice that feels both still and teetering on the edge of potential energy.

And perhaps that is the difference with this band on ECM. There is never any stillness in this set of performances. They, like composer and saxophonist Joe Lovano, are in a constant state of becoming and evolving. It is music in motion, even if that motion is mostly slow.


Will Layman

On Trio Tapestry : Veteran saxophone player Joe Lovano is one of the most acclaimed and beloved horn wielders in jazz, and no wonder: with his work with Woody Herman, John Scofield, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell and Paul Motian and countless others, not to mention his own long series of LPs as leader, he’s had a large hand in defining late twentieth century postbop. For Trio Tapestry, his debut for the venerable label ECM, he enlists pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi for a more meditative program than we’re used to hearing from him. Working with less frenetic tempos and floating melodies, the saxophonist digs deep into the tracks, exploring their nooks and crannies instead of using them for takeoff. In the vein of Lovano’s old bandmate Motian, Castaldi doesn’t so much set the rhythms as imply them, while Crispell wanders across her keyboard with intent. Lovano slips into the quiet storm like a dancer, finding the core of his sidefolks’ swirl and bringing it to shimmering life. The beauteous ‘Seeds of Change’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’ and tension-filled ‘Spirit Lake’ and ‘Rare Beauty’ showcase the trio’s telepathic interplay and sublime taste, while ‘The Smiling Dog’ and the self-explanatory ‘Piano/Drum Episode’ and ‘Gong Episode’ indicate a goofy sense of humor. But ‘Mystic’ may be the album’s heart. Barely accompanied by Castaldi, Lovano pushes the top of his horn’s range high up in the ether, like he’s eager, but not desperate, to touch the divine.

The Big Takeover

Michael Toland

On Trio Tapestry : Joe Lovano’s first album as a leader on ECM introduces a new trio. Marilyn Crispell is a pianist from the jazz avant-garde. Her background is unusual for a Lovano collaborator. Carmen Castaldi is a drummer from the Paul Motian school of minimalism. The first track, “One Time In,” opens with Lovano on gongs. You know the haunting sound from your dreams. A nocturnal atmosphere descends. Lovano’s first tenor saxophone notes are soft and measured, adjectives not often applied to his music. Such rapt inner focus, such quietude, has long been associated with the ECM aesthetic.

[…] But here, in this spare context, he deals with fewer ideas and therefore concentrates on the essential ones. It is fascinating to hear him develop diverse melodies from the stepping stones of his tunes. In this bare trio, the beauty of his musical logic is laid bare. The reverberations of his gongs add mystery and also suggest key centers for improvisation.

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Thomas Conrad

On Trio Tapestry : For anyone who has followed the career of saxophonist Joe Lovano, it might be hard to believe he’s never released an album for ECM Records. Yes, he’s a longtime Blue Note artist whose most recent release — by Sound Prints, the quintet he leads with trumpeter Dave Douglas — can be found on Douglas’ label, Greenleaf Music.

But Lovano has been a vital presence within the ECM ecosystem for more than 35 years, on albums by drummer Paul Motian and others. (A couple of those were credited to “Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell.”) He’s finally about to have an ECM title solely under his own name: Trio Tapestry, which the label will release on Jan. 25.

The album features a new band with pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi, who come with some pertinent history. Crispell is a veteran ECM artist who, like Lovano, had a deep musical connection with Motian. And Castaldi has been a compatriot of Lovano’s since their teenage years in Cleveland; they matriculated the same year at the Berklee School of Music. All of which informs the intimate character of the music on Trio Tapestry, which Lovano composed with attunement to 12-tone techniques.

The music on this album is shadowy and supple, designed to drift according to the slightest gesture by any one of the musicians. That art of implication is fully evident on “Rare Beauty,” which has its premiere here.

Beginning with a soft rumble of Castaldi’s toms, the piece eases into a melodic line that Lovano and Crispell play together in a free-flowing rubato. It’s very much in tune with the style that Lovano and Crispell each favored in trios with Motian. (It also bears a relationship to the lyricism of Ornette Coleman – which likely explains the title, with its echo of “Beauty is a Rare Thing.”) And the pliable cohesion on display underscores how much this is a collective achievement.


Nate Chinen

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Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal Reviews

On Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal : For decades, narrow-minded observers have tried to keep jazz fragmented into discrete, even opposing strains: “straight-ahead,” “avant-garde” and so on. Fortunately, elite musicians such as trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano continue to ignore this line of thinking. The second release from Sound Prints — their collaboratively led band inspired by Wayne Shorter’s ever-unclassifiable aesthetic, and featuring the superb rhythm section of pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Joey Baron — finds the quintet settling into a wonderfully loose group M.O. Rubato themes, most by the leaders with a pair of pieces from Shorter’s legendary Sixties run for Blue Note, flow into searching, deep-listening improvisations where any group member can take the music anywhere they please. Scandal shows how, when great players dispense with categories, jazz can be everything at once.

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Rolling Stone

Hank Shteamer

On Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal : Ostensibly, the scandal behind the title of the second album from saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas relates to the quintet’s challenging of the traditional rules of jazz and improvisation. That idea might not entirely hold; these pieces are, after, pretty accessible in structure and harmonics. It’s the skill within those strictures, though, that makes the album so engaging. Neither Lovano nor Douglas sound beholden to their predecessors (explicitly Wayne Shorter, though hints of some of jazz’s marquee names appear), and their interwoven parts give the album its specific tenor. Linda May Han Oh adds sprightly bass playing that keeps nearly all the tracks bouncing. The highly skilled group, despite sounding straightforward at times, does pull off enough surprises – solo lines, time changes, odd meters – that the album never loses intrigue. It might not be a scandal, but it does deserve some headlines.

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Justin Cober-Lake and Will Layman

On Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal : What happens when two of the most inventive improvisers in jazz join forces? A series of brilliant dialogues between Lovano’s saxophone and Douglas’ trumpet ensues, the two finding remarkably unanimity of spirit and tone in original compositions by each (as well as each musician’s arrangement of a Wayne Shorter classic). Their Sound Prints band features pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Joey Baron in a warm, bracing, intimately recorded session.

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The Chicago Tribune

Howard Reich

On Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal : […] Lovano and Douglas dramatically commenced their set on the tight stage in the wedge shaped corner of this tiny, hallowed venue, with contrapuntal, antiphonal, unaccompanied horns. The two leaders alternated original compositions with settings of Wayne Shorter classics (a Douglas arrangement of ‘Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum’ and Lovano’s recasting of ‘Juju’) starting with the trumpeter’s ‘Dream State’ – the lead-off track from their recommended recent release Scandal. Counterweighting the lines of trumpet and straight tenor were a consistent feature of the intensely interwoven music which was stoked with relevance and energy by the redoubtable Joey Baron, one of the most valuable jazz drummers since Billy Higgins. Also superb was the insistent timing, rich tone and concentrated ideas of bassist Linda May Han Oh, who had picked up the gong for bassist of the year at the Jazz Journalists’ Awards a couple of hours earlier.

St Louis-born pianist and former Berklee student of Lovano, not to mention a tall drink of water, was Lawrence Fields, whose rangy fingers maintained a dancing pulse and chordal architecture reminiscent, at intervals, of Herbie Hancock. Despite impassioned solos from all, it was the tunes that held the night, more so the originals than the Wayne arrangements, notably Douglas’ memorable ‘Ups and Downs’. The latter, a lilting ballad, began with an impressionistic descending/ascending line from the tenor with contrary motion harmonization from trumpet, beautifully buoyed by the rhythm section. Other Douglas odes that stood out were the eponymous CD title track, more mournful than scandalous per se, a sad paean to these politically messed up times, which featured bulbous muted trumpet and sighing, controlled cynicism from Lovano. At a similar dirge-like tempo was ‘Libra’, an arresting theme with episodic changes reminiscent of Shorter’s adventurousness, succinctly rendered with a pellucid piano intro. Saliently, and I’ve noticed this before with the capacious book of John Zorn’s Masada, Douglas has all the music memorised before he hits the bandstand.

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Jazzwise Magazine

Michael Jackson

On Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal : […] This may be a studio album, but has the feel of a live performance. Douglas’ trumpet and Lovano’s saxophone chase each other, weaving in and out across every track. Their debut had two Shorter originals penned especially for them. This set has two classics, “Fee Fi Fo Fum” arranged by Douglas, and “JuJu” arranged by Lovano. The first starts with a nod at the classic riff, dissolves into a trumpet and sax joust, bursts into a fleeting piano solo over driving swing, switches to the theme, pauses for riotous, collective reflection before they’re off again. Joey Baron starts off a tumbling reflective take on “JuJu,” out of time for much of the piece, fragments of the tune declaimed before hectic joint exploration, then a little motific hook sparks a groove and Fields bursts out on piano. It’s exhilarating, high-wire playing.

The remainder of the 11 pieces are penned by the two leaders. Dream State is a striking opener, a stabbing melodic fragment which gradually accumulates weight and a steadily rocking groove. “Full Sun” swings breezily and Linda Oh stretches out with a propulsive solo. “Ups and Downs” conjures a wistful mood and taut exquisite solos from Douglas and then Fields.

This band set out to play their music with the same attitude as Shorter and in that they surely succeed. The co-leaders may be the marquee names, but the sound is that of collective exhalation. It’s small band acoustic jazz at its best.

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On Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal :A beacon of group unity and flexibility with a smouldering title track.

The Sound Prints quintet, co-led by saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas, can surely book its place on the 2018 albums of the year lists thanks to the smouldering, Miles-muted trumpet sound and hip yet stately horn counterpoint of its title track alone. For some, a downside of Scandal might be that it’s unapologetically a jazz album – entirely instrumental, jazz-referential in the accuracy of its fascination with the music of Wayne Shorter; particularly Shorter’s 1960s work and involvement in Miles Davis’ second quintet.

But the five year-old group – Lovano and Douglas, plus pianist Lawrence Fields, double bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Joey Baron – tell better jazz stories from this kind of perspective than most, and this session catches them at their most collectively fluent.

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The Guardian

John Fordham

There is an imposing bridge that takes you over the river from the bustling capital to the flatlands that lie beyond and reach as far as the Hungarian border to the north. Civic pride is hugely important here and the town punches well above its weight when it comes to providing culture and entertainment to its citizens and visitors alike. This year was the 20th Pančevo Jazz Festival and, as in previous years, the festival director kept an open ear to bring a diverse selection of artists to the festival. Its location is the town’s Cultural Centre, a 600-seat theatre with a foyer free-stage and bar. Every evening there were two main concerts plus additional talks by one or more of the main artists, plus a jam session. The first of these featured Joe Lovano, his talk primarily attended by local music students who performed later that night at the jam session.

The renowned saxophonist talked at length about his formative years before inviting the students to watch his sound check. One of the more interesting questions asked was by Tim Berne (who played the first show of the evening) who really wanted to know how Lovano practiced and how the process had changed for him over the years. Lovano duly demonstrated to the delight of the students. His parting shot to the students? ‘The more you play, the more you’ll say!”

Lovano’s show was one of the best from him that I have seen in recent years. He was positively on fire, with his former Berklee student Lawrence Fields also a revelation on piano. Fields’ fingers gliding over the keys with seemingly no effort, he’s a brilliant improviser and can swing too. This was not just about Lovano either with rhythm section of Peter Slavov on bass and Otis Brown on drums rock-solid all night. The quartet were such a tight unit that when Joe stood back he appeared engrossed in their playing.

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Jazzwise Magazine

Tim Dickeson

The American saxophonist was on imperious form for this gutsy two-set gig.

American saxophonist Joe Lovano closed this gutsy two-set gig with an up-tempo swinger and a reminder that he first played at Ronnie Scott’s in 1977 with the Woody Herman Orchestra. He returned a decade later with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, but since then Lovano has been a regular headline draw.

Tonight’s sax-and-rhythm gig, the classic quartet of the title, referenced repertoire from recent projects. The first set, announced as a suite of compositions, opened with the feisty bop of “Bird’s Eye View” from Lovano’s 2005 Newport Jazz Festival collaboration with pianist Hank Jones (a recording of the performance was released last year, titled Classic! Live at Newport). The relaxed and tender “Our Daily Bread” came next, from a big-band recording with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. Then “Mystic”, a mood-piece from his Wayne Shorter tribute project Sound Prints, segued into John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament”.

Although clearly marked themes, soloists to the fore and pre-set structures signalled a traditional path, long improvisations and strong musical personalities pushed the form to its limits. Lovano articulates his breathy tenor sax with a light touch and alternates fast-fingered slurs with puffed-cheek low-note honks, delicate high-note phonics and passages of lyrical invention. His phrases come at a slant, smoothing out angles before darting into trenchant riffs or spraying out lines that border on abstraction without losing the underlying structure. Pianist Lawrence Fields balances tradition and invention with an equally strong voice. While right-hand lines sparkled with modernist intent, left-hand counterpoint strode purposefully to the bass, creating tension, climax and intrigue. In support, bassist Peter Slavov was a pitch-perfect foundation for Otis Brown III’s cymbal-driven swing and snare-drum chatter.

Midway through the first set, Lovano switched to the tárogató — it looks like a bulbous clarinet and sounds like a snake charmer’s pipe. The sour quarter-toned fragments firmed into a dance and launched a dazzling interlude of two-handed piano accompanied by a thunder of mallets. Lovano returned to hint at the theme of “Lonnie’s Lament”, switched to tenor and finished the set with a rampage of swing.

He repeated the exercise halfway through the intense second set with a spellbinding reshaping of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”. “It’s Easy to Remember” followed, a heartfelt ballad with Lovano and Fields on such imperious form that the zippy swinger of a finale they segued into seemed almost an afterthought. But as Lovano’s phrases tumbled over a surge of rhythm, it brought the evening to a high.

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Financial Times

Mike Hobart

2017 marks a half-century since we lost the brilliant musician John Coltrane. And while the notion of another Coltrane tribute recording strikes me as excess, the truth is that there will—and should—be Coltrane tributes forever. His legacy was a big (and can withstand as many reinterpretations) as any in American music. But more importantly, Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane features two of brilliant—and different—saxophonists whose knowledge of Trane is superb: Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano. Supported by a sharp rhythm section.

And finally, this is one of the most thoughtful and interesting Trane look-backs in a long time because it covers seven less-heard tunes that span Coltrane’s whole career. No “Giant Steps” or “Impressions” or “A Love Supreme”. This one opens your ears. This one is as new as a retrospective session gets.

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Will Layman

Whether it’s his repertoire from the mid-1950s or the “sheets of sound” music of the late 1950s onwards or the “spiritual explorations” of 1962 until his passing, with John Coltrane it’s always prudent to expect the unexpected. Compassion-The Music of John Coltrane doesn’t disappoint, as Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano with Phil Markowitz, Ron McClure and Billy Hart bring theatrical flair to this Coltrane music. Here, in all its radiant apparel, is the splendour of Jazz’s golden age. Whether it is in the balletic grace of “Central Park West/Dear Lord” or “Equinox”, or in the elaborate marvels of “Reverend King” and “Compassion” or the bluesy “Locomotion” and the fascinating journey of “Ole”, the tenor saxophone duo of Liebman and Lovano offer fascinating insights into the music of John Coltrane.

Indeed all of the musicians, especially Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano are on top form. The saxophonists make light of the technical challenges of Coltrane’s early, middle and late period work; Dave Liebman in the stirring fervour of his playing on tenor, his soaring flights on recorder and flute and by the sheer humanness of his presence and Joe Lovano with characteristically quiet and guarded warmth, and without over-blown out-breaths, particularly in “Compassion”. With sterling contributions by drummer Billy Hart, especially in the opening moments of “Compassion,” as well as from bassist Ron McClure and pianist Phil Markowitz, all of whom keep that piece from “A Love Supreme” together while the saxophonists handle its breaking flow with appropriate freedom.

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Jazz da Gama

Raul da Gama

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

Bird Songs

Bird Songs Reviews

On Bird Songs :Charlie Parker’s music rethought and interpreted in fresh ways

Although he has recorded for Blue Note for 20 years, it is significant that saxophonist Joe Lovano’s recordings are now jointly credited to Us Five. Before putting together this exciting young band, Lovano was on a comfortable artistic plateau. The band of two drummers, bass and piano has received great acclaim and helped revitalize his music.

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BBC Music

John Eyles

On Bird Songs : On Bird Songs, the challenge facing saxophonist Joe Lovano—and it’s a formidable one—is to tastefully approach Charlie Parker’s iconic repertoire and his impeccably crafted alto saxophone playing as building blocks for previously unexplored possibilities. Bold strides are required, not timid tip-toeing, so the challenge is well suited to Lovano and Us Five, the group he began in 2008 with pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummers Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III.

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Jazz Times

George Varga

On Bird Songs : The legacy of Charlie Parker is something that every jazz musician has to contend with. As a co-creator of bebop up at Minton’s with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and others, Parker has assured his legacy by the time he died at age 34 in 1956. He was more than just a landmark innovator, as Bird’s outsized playing and personality in a community known for great playing and colorful characters makes him legend.

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AOL Spinner

Tad Hendrickson

On Bird Songs : Sax giant Joe Lovano has blown next to a bevy of jazz greats, and been applauded as soloist and leader throughout his nearly 40-year career. While it might seem surprising that audiences had to wait until his 22nd album for a tribute to Charlie Parker, Bird Songs demonstrates, once again, that Lovano does things his own way, and that great things are worth waiting for.

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All About Jazz

Andrew J. Sammut

On Bird Songs : Given its occasional tendency to revel in its rich past, you could argue that jazz needs another album dedicated to one of its titans about as much as it needs another 19-hour documentary series. But leave it to restless tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano to take the idea of a tribute record and turn it on its head with this collection dedicated to Charlie Parker.

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Los Angeles Times

Chris Barton

On Bird Songs :Joe Lovano / Us Five, ‘Bird Songs’

Saxophonist Joe Lovano has tried on a lot of bands and formats since joining the Blue Note label 20 years ago — duos, trios, quartets, big bands, near-classical ensembles. But his current quintet, Us Five, may be his finest. The band — which features pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela — put out the spectacular “Folk Art’‘ in 2009, and now they serve up “Bird Songs,’‘ a collection inspired by the work of Charlie Parker. But this is no mere tribute album. Parker’s compositions are not played as he intended (speedily, with torrents of notes); Lovano upends them, infusing them with modern sensibilities. Mostly they are slowed down, which gives the musicians room to roam beneath the chords and rhythms. “Blues Collage,’‘ is a jazz mash-up: Lovano, Weidman, and Spalding each play a different Parker tune at the same time, intertwining the melodies into a new song altogether. Lovano says the idea for this project began when Us Five performed in Barbados and broke out a new arrangement of Parker’s “Barbados,’‘ one with a Caribbean vibe. The tune is full of enthusiasm, and its ethos — finding something new to say through something familiar — encapsulates why Lovano is now jazz royalty.

Read the entire review here

Boston Globe

Steve Greenlee

On Bird Songs : For those who wonder, “Do we really need another interpretation of Charlie Parker’s music?” Yes, we do, and Bird Songs is it. Lovano’s big-hearted tenor and vast imagination make this record a must-have for Bird fans, Lovano fans and jazz fans alike. With his terrific group Us Five—which includes Esperanza Spalding on bass, James Weidman on piano and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela—this is the followup to the group’s highly regarded disc Folk Art from 2009. While that recording focused on Lovano originals, what we have on Bird Songs are 11 very personal reinterpretations of Parker tunes. For example, Lovano turns the up-tempo “Donna Lee” into a lush ballad with intricate, understated drum, piano and bass work providing a backdrop for Lovano’s love letters sent through his saxophone. “Moose The Mooche” becomes an a great experiment in messing with time and rhythm. And “Yardbird Suite” serves as another shimmering ballad that slides charmingly into a mid-tempo toe-tapper. Lovano’s saxophone playing is always a joy to hear, but this is a group that is developing into one of the best in the business. You can feel them listening to—and playing off—each other and enjoying the moment. The band will be launching this record with a weeklong engagement at the Village Vanguard Jan. 11–16, and an NPR Live At The Village Vanguard session to be broadcast on WBGO (Newark, N.J.) on Jan. 12. Both are must-witness events for the new year.


Frank Alkyer

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Jazz review: Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane.

In 2007 BBC Radio commissioned saxophonist Dave Liebman to record an all-Coltrane program to mark the 40th anniversary of legendary saxophonist/composer John Coltrane’s passing. Asked to bring in Saxophone Summit—the band Liebman co-led with fellow saxophonists Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane—Liebman managed to assemble regular members Lovano, pianist Phil Markowitz, and drummer Billy Hart, along with bassist Ron McClure as a substitute for the unavailable Cecil McBee. Ten years later, the session is being released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Coltrane’s passing on July 17, 1967.

Billy Hart says that “we’re all just unbelievable Coltrane fans.” If the playing alone wasn’t enough to show that, there’s also the evidence of Liebman’s album Homage To John Coltrane (Owl Records), going back to 1987. This set opens with “Locomotion,” a distinctive take on the blues from Blue Train (Blue Note, 1958). The tune contains the germs of many later Coltrane works, and makes a great launching point, the classic two tenor lineup dueling with each other and egging each other on. A ballad medley showcases the two horns individually—Lovano on tenor for “Central Park West” from Coltrane’s Sound (Atlantic, 1964; but recorded in 1960); Liebman on soprano for “Dear Lord” from Transition (Impulse!, 1970, but recorded in 1965). This spiritual ballad has long had a special place for Liebman, and is the only composition repeated from his early tribute album.

“Ole” from Ole Coltrane (Atlantic, 1961) represents Coltrane’s long term interest in world music, which later came out in tunes like “India” and “Brazilia.” After an introduction featuring wood flute and flute, the Spanish-tinged melody is introduced by tenor and soprano saxophones. “Reverend King” from Cosmic Music (Impulse!, 1968, but recorded in 1966) features Liebman on flute, accompanied by Lovano’s alto clarinet: a lovely combination unique to this track. “Equinox” (also from Coltrane’s Sound) is another blues, returning to the tenor/soprano combination. The album closes with “Compassion” from Meditations (Impulse!, 1966), dipping into Trane’s late period. It gives Hart a solo showcase before launching into the free group improvisation with little steady pulse or set harmonic progressions that typifies late Coltrane. The band is so comfortable with this approach that they play it much like the earlier material: a bit more outside, but there is no sharp dividing line.

John Coltrane’s career was so compressed that the compositions here—recorded between 1958 and 1966—represent six distinct stylistic phases. The more-or-less chronological presentation demonstrates how far he progressed in such a brief period, as well as how he maintained his own voice all the way. Coltrane’s music needs no defense, but these players make an excellent case for it all the same.

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All About Jazz

Mark Suillivan

Jazz review: Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane. This superb musical dialogue is a worthy tribute to the great man of jazz to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

So timeless is the saxophonist John Coltrane’s music that a recording made to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his death can be belatedly released to mark the 50th. This 2007 studio session, by the reeds players Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, was made in New York for broadcast on Radio 3 in London. It’s a passionate and compelling reminder (if any were needed) of Trane’s endurance in jazz.

The date hits the ground running with Locomotion, from the album Blue Train. Liebman’s and Lovano’s twin tenor saxophones race through the blues-based theme in unison, breaking briefly for solo asides before each man takes a turn in the spotlight. Ron McClure on bass and Billy Hart on drums drive both players on wilfully.

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The Times (UK)

Chris Pearson

You could fairly call Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane a labor of love. Also obsession, and solidarity, and communal ritual. In any case, it’s the new album by Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, both longtime specialists in the ways of Trane — and colleagues in Saxophone Summit, which originally also featured Michael Brecker, and then Ravi Coltrane.

On Compassion, Lovano and Liebman enlist Phil Markowitz on piano, Ron McClure on bass and Billy Hart on drums. The program — recorded in 2007 for the 40th anniversary of Coltrane’s death, and now out on Resonance Records — covers a range from balladic to boppish to ecstatic. “Equinox” inhabits a middle ground, with a percolating intro that opens up to a deeply swinging groove, both saxophonists in excellent form. Saxophone Summit (with Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, and Greg Osby) will perform June 27-July 1 at Birdland Jazz Club.

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Nate Chinen

Ten years ago, for the 40th anniversary of the inspirational saxophonist John Coltrane’s death, the BBC’s Jazz on 3 commissioned a tribute from sax virtuosi Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, embracing the hard-bop Coltrane of the late 1950s as well as the anthemic free-jazz master he became. Resonance has put those tapes out for this 50th-anniversary year. Liebman had to assemble a hastily modified version of his Saxophone Summit band (Phil Markowitz is on piano, the wonderful Billy Hart on drums), but the collective passion is palpable, as is the jam-session uninhibitedness. Liebman and Lovano rip through Coltrane’s boppish Locomotion as a two-tenor tussle; Lovano’s rugged tenor and Liebman’s ethereal soprano sharply contrast on a segue of Central Park West and the rapturous Dear Lord, Coltrane’s world musicianship is evoked by the Spanish theme of Ole, there’s an Amazing Grace mood to Reverend King, and a prayerlike ecstasy to the freeform title track. The full breadth of the shortlived Coltrane’s legacy is rarely celebrated so authoritatively and completely.

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The Guardian

John Fordham

The Irish Times reviews the newest album in a recent article titled “Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano, Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane, drinking deep from the Coltrane cup”.

“There is no shortage of tributes to John Coltrane but when those paying homage are Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, two of the great saxophonist’s most learned and gifted disciples, it’s clear that there will be more than just music under consideration.

Coltrane’s combination of instrumental virtuosity, tireless creativity and deep spirituality left its mark on the generations that followed him.

The six Coltrane compositions here, including Locomotion, Central Park West and Equinox, are given new life by two great saxophonists, with bravura support from pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart, who have been strong enough to drink deep from the Coltrane cup and come out the other side with voices of their own.”

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Irish Times

Cormac Larkin

Tones, Shapes and Colors

Tones, Shapes and Colors Reviews

On Tones, Shapes and Colors : Joe Lovano’s recorded debut as a leader features the tenor in a quartet with pianist Ken Werner, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Mel Lewis. Together, they perform three originals apiece by the leader and Werner. None of the tunes are simple or based on the chords of standards, but although they did not catch on, the interplay by the musicians, the excellent pacing of tempos and moods, and the consistently satisfying solos make this a set worth searching for.

All Music Guide

Scott Yanow