Joe Lovano US Five ‘Bird Songs’ (Blue Note) 5/5

Tenor giant Joe Lovano has been with the Blue Note label now for some twenty years and during this extended period has cut some of the finest music of his career. Continuing on from his last album, ‘Folk Art’, Lovano has recorded once more with US Five and for this project has devoted the album to the music of Charlie Parker. Though playing mainly on his favoured tenor, Joe Lovano performs on a variety of reed instruments including straight alto, double soprano and G-Mezzo soprano saxophones. The piece ‘Passport’ is taken at a brisk pace and possibly the number most like Parker in its interpretation. Yet on tenor Lovano evokes rather Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and even in parts both Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon. A truly inspired ‘Donna Lee’ is an album highlight and here it is played as a ballad. This enables the listener to hear the piece in a whole new light. Compelling is the only way to describe the take on ‘Barbados’, complete with latinised percussion.

This number has long been a favourite of Jazz Jamaica and Lovano succeeds in capturing the Caribbean flavour of the composition. Further Latin incursions, though this time of a Brazilian jazz kind, are to be found on ‘Dewey square’ and this is so convincing Joe Lovano really ought to think about devoting an entire album to this genre. Esperanza Spaulding plays a lovely lengthy bass solo while James Weidman impresses with lyrical piano riffs. This is an outstanding ensemble performance with some truly novel takes on a normally all-too familiar repertoire, thus cleverly avoiding the pitfall of playing old school be-bop. A brief late March UK tour takes in the south-east and north-east of England. Hopefully he will return for an extended tour in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse