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Joe Lovano's "Us Five” at Village Vanguard

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Joe Lovano "Us Five”
(Joe Lovano Website)
Joe Lovano on Saxophones
James Weidman on Piano
Esperanza Spalding on Bass
Otis Brown III on Drums
Matt Wilson on Drums

Village Vanguard
178 Seventh Avenue South
New York, NY 10014

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 11, 2011

On one of this season’s every-night snowstorms, I headed down to the Village for the Vanguard, what else, for Joe Lovano’s “Us Five” momentous appearance. His quintet featured the riveting Esperanza Spaulding on bass, James Weidman on piano, and two, yes, two drummers, Otis Brown III and Matt Wilson. It’s not uncommon to see two drummers, with one on traditional drums and one on Latin or Afro-Cuban percussion, together onstage. But, tonight, there were two drummers, front stage, on two traditional sets of drums, coordinating, collaborating, and celebrating the potential of percussive conversations. The club was sold-out, packed to the walls, and, as the snow fell heavily, and the wind blew mightily, Joe Lovano on saxophones and his percussive quintet heated the crowd with steamy dynamics.

The band had instant zip and echoing refrains, as Lovano and Ms. Spaulding, wearing bright orange, glowed in the stage lights. Wild tempos abounded, as I thought this was one of the most pre-warmed-up bands I’d ever heard. Immediately, the combination of syncopated drums and metal tempos brought fascinating flourishes to this already charismatic band. One drummer might be on straight rhythms, while the other takes clavé, and the possibilities were limitless for outsized exotic textures. Lovano did a dance, as Ms. Spaulding fired up her bass. When James Weidman’s piano was featured in “Stella by Starlight”, the keyboard rambles fragmented the theme like a puzzle. But Lovano put it back together with honey-coated sax refrains.

Lovano then switched to soprano sax, while Brown and Wilson, on complimentary tempos, conversed with incandescent percussive effects. “Passport”, “Laura”, and “Birdyard” all unfolded in contrasting style, but, always, sophisticated sensation. A collage of Bebop was stunning and surreal, with Lovano returning to soprano sax, driving the themes. Solos were spotlighted for each drummer, as well as Ms. Spaulding, who did her own little dance as she played her bass with lightning quick phrases. Lovano, back on his larger than life tenor sax, overlaid the merging drums with sharp, brassy pulse. The final piece was all over the map, traveling the stage with Weidman’s piano abandon. Next time Lovano’s “Us Five” are in town, don’t miss them. You can check out the Vanguard’s upcoming events here.

Village Vanguard on a Snowy Night
Courtesy of Marco Losavio

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at