Joe Lovano | Jazz Showcase | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Joe Lovano Critic's Choice Recommended Soundboard

When: Thu., April 7, 8 & 10 p.m., Fri., April 8, 8 & 10 p.m., Sat., April 9, 8 & 10 p.m. and Sun., April 10, 4, 8 & 10 p.m. 2011

For most of his two decades at Blue Note, reedist Joe Lovano has made concept records. But whether they've been tied to an instrumental setting, a subgenre, or a historic figure (Frank Sinatra, Gunther Schuller), these concepts have never just been gimmicks to prop Lovano up—as a musician and bandleader he's followed an utterly independent path. Fluent in the history and development of jazz over the past six or seven decades, Lovano long ago established himself as a brilliant synthesist who gently but consistently pushes the envelope from his roost in the mainstream. He's arguably among the two or three most respected and influential saxophonists in jazz today, and no longer needs to justify his artistic choices—particularly when the results sound as good as Bird Songs, his 22nd album for Blue Note and the second effort by his quintet Us Five. In the press materials for Bird Songs, Lovano says he didn't approach it as a tribute—a rather absurd statement about a record focusing on the music of Charlie Parker. Accompanied by Esperanza Spalding (bass), James Weidman (piano), Otis Brown III (drums), and Francisco Mela (drums), Lovano remakes the material, parsing Parker's melodies to build improvisations from terse fragments, incorporating Brazilian and Caribbean grooves, and slowing down ripping tunes to ballad speed. On "Passport" Lovano navigates the blistering tempo with immaculate articulation and nimble logic, his thoroughly modern playing demonstrating his mastery of bebop's 70-year-old lessons. In the album's liner notes, he writes that these arrangements are his personal response to "unanswered questions" about where Parker might've taken his music if he hadn't died at 34—another way of saying that they reveal where Lovano's music is today. He fronts Us Five for this engagement, with Petar Slavov subbing for Spalding and Steve Williams filling in for Mela. See also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. —Peter Margasak

Price: $25

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