Less capricious than Django Bates's tribute to Charlie Parker last year, but just as inspired and rich in references, Joe Lovano's Bird Songs is not just a stunning celebration of Parker's music, but a salute to the sax giants – Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman and Wayne Shorter – who were liberated by it. Lovano celebrates and transforms this legacy with help from Us Five's two drummers, plus Esperanza Spalding's springy bass and pianist James Weidman's empathy with classic bebop. Lovano's four-decade immersion in jazz-sax methods allows his tenor to sound as rugged as Rollins's and, at times, as feathery as Lee Konitz's.
Charlie “Yardbird” Parker was a saxophonist of such awe-inspiring daring and invention that he straight-up hypnotized two generations of jazz players. Between 1945 and maybe 1985, it was rare to hear a new musician on just about any instrument who wasn’t either a Bird acolyte or, just as clichéd, someone running the opposite direction, desperate to escape Bird’s shadow. Joe Lovano emerged as a young master on, mainly, tenor saxophone in the mid-1980s.
Joe Lovano has been sufficiently forward-looking to have earned the right to look backward on his 22nd album for Blue Note Records, marking his 20th anniversary with the label. Bird Songs presents songs associated with, written for, and, primarily, written by Bird, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. Lovano employs his group Us Five, which includes pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and two drummers, Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela.
The presence of bass beauty Esperanza Spalding in tenor-sax veteran Joe Lovano?s new Us Five ensemble is just one sign the quintet has the fire of youth in its belly. (Another is Havana-bred drummer Francisco Mela.) On Bird Songs, Us Five revisit the snaky music of bebop icon Charlie ”Bird” Parker (”Ko Ko,” ”Donna Lee”), but the vintage tunes inspire riskier improvs from Lovano, even when his rhythm section adheres to more straight-edged accompaniment. B+ .
Charlie Parker’s music rethought and interpreted in fresh ways. John Eyles 2011 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.
CAGE THE ELEPHANT “Thank You Happy Birthday” (Jive) Matt Shultz’s scratchy, wobbly, jumpy voice isn’t pretty by any means. But it happens to be the perfect instrument for the manic desperation and sardonic defiance of his band, Cage the Elephant. Formed in Bowling Green, Ky., Cage the Elephant had enough success with its self-titled debut album — extensive touring and widespread rock radio airplay for hard-headed singles like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “Back Against the Wall” — to embolden the band on its second, “Thank You Happy Birthday.” The new album is more abrasive, rowdier, more unstable and pushier in the right ways.