Online since August 2002

One of his best

Reviewed June 2009

Folk Art
Folk Art
By Joe Lovano Us Five

Blue Note Records: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

After more than twenty albums on the esteemed Blue Notes Records, to go along with a handful of sets on other labels, Joe Lovano has established himself as a jazz giant, the tenor saxophonist (among an array of other reeds he plays) of our times. He can swing with the classy lyrical silkiness of Lester Young, blow with the deep, rich soul of Ben Webster, and take his horn(s) on ferociously free forays in the way of John Coltrane.

Lovano is often referred to as an "inside/outside player," meaning he can work within the jazz tradition (inside), as he did on the 2004 set "I'm All for You," or fly free (outside) as on 1998's "Trio Fascination: Edition One," two of his best recordings. On "Folk Art," Lovano and his new band, the Us Five, swing back and forth over that inside/outside border, crafting a sound that combines the beauty of a traditional jazz mainstream with an adventurous free-flying beauty.

Lovano worked with veterans on his previously mentioned albums: drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Dave Holland on "Trio Fascination" and pianist Hank Jones, bassist George Mraz and drummer Paul Motian on "I'm All for You." On "Folk Art," he joins forces with three fresh faces, Esperanza Spaulding on bass, and drummer/percussionists Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, with only pianist James Weidman as the saxophonist's co-veteran. The fresh voices seem to have inspired Lovano, on a journey that – like a set of off-kilter short stories filled with quirky dialog and unexpected twists and turns – is filled with intricately "out-there/in-there" engagements, in a variety of conversations with his bandmates, on duo/trio/quartet/quintet sections that slip smoothly from one exotic musical locale to another.

The disc features all original tunes by Lovano. They shift from the high-energy, angular opener, "Powerhouse," to the lyrically romantic "For Judi," to the rollickingly offbeat "Dibango." The line-up is the traditional horn and a rhythm section, piano/bass/drums, with an added drummer. Both percussionists play an array of instruments – ankle bells, ascending and descending opera gongs, pandero, dumbek, Ethiopian drums – that lend the ensemble's rhythms an exotic and complex world music weave, and a very engaging ebullience that sounds anything but traditional.

"Folk Art," an energized set, earns a place among Joe Lovano's finest outings – no small feat.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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