Album review: Joe Lovano Us Five’s ‘Bird Songs’


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Given its occasional tendency to revel in its rich past, you could argue that jazz needs another album dedicated to one of its titans about as much as it needs another 19-hour documentary series. But leave it to restless tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano to take the idea of a tribute record and turn it on its head with this collection dedicated to Charlie Parker.

Leading the same quintet from his fiery 2009 album “Folk Art” that includes Grammy nominee Esperanza Spalding on bass and a nimble percussion duo of Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, Lovano digs for new twists in Parker’s compositions like the flesh-and-blood creatures they are rather than replicating what’s already been heard. The slow-burning “Loverman” gets a new light cast into its deep shadows with Lovano on soprano saxophone, while “Barbados” enjoys a buoyant, tropical feel with a clattering metallic percussion dialogue.


Given the talent on hand, it’s no surprise that one of the record’s most infectious moments is “Birdyard,” a brief but serpentine trimming from “Yardbird Suite” that’s a showcase for the aulochrome, a twin-soprano woodwind that Parker never lived to see. Though a showcase for history, Lovano and his band expertly show the many ways these classics can still throw sparks.

Joe Lovano Us Five
‘Bird Songs”
Blue Note
Three Stars (Out of four)

— Chris Barton