On January 8, 2013, saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano will release Cross Culture, his 23rd Blue Note recording and the third consecutive release by his critically acclaimed quintet Us Five. The album features 10 of Lovano’s original compositions along with a cover of Billy Strayhorn’s ballad “Star Crossed Lovers.” This time out, Lovano has added West African guitarist — and fellow Blue Note artist — Lionel Loueke to his core group of pianist James Weidman, bassists Esperanza Spalding or Peter Slavov, and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela.
“Since I started to tour in the late ’70s, I’ve collected instruments from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, and North and South America,” says Lovano, who, in addition to playing tenor saxophone on Cross Culture, improvises on G-mezzo soprano, tarogato, and aulochrome, and plays an array of percussion — bells and shakers, an Israeli paddle drum, and a Nigerian slit drum called an oborom. “I’ve spent a lifetime feeling the passion of experiencing the spirits in the sounds of the collective ancestors in these instruments, creating music but feeling like the earth. It’s coming through in my compositions and in the way we play together.”
Loueke, who himself combines exhaustive knowledge of harmony and folk forms, contributes to six pieces. “Lionel doesn’t just play the guitar,” Lovano says. “He freely integrates himself with the rhythm section and with me in the front line, and shares the space in a personal way.”
The album ends with an expansive performance of Lovano’s original “PM,” inspired by master drummer Paul Motian, his frequent collaborator from 1981 until his death in November 2011. Like everything that has preceded it, the performance, in Lovano’s words, “combines the harmonic and rhythmic structures of modern jazz in a free-flowing way, with a tribal energy, tying together things about the world of music, beyond just categories of jazz.”
Photo credit: Jimmy Katz