A review of Joe Lovano at Dazzle Jazz Club - Reverb

Joe Lovano and Us Five at Dazzle Jazz Club, 01/30/13 (review)

Grammy winning jazz musician Joe Lovano played at Dazzle in Denver on Jan. 30, 2013. Photo of Lovano courtesy of his website.

Grammy winning jazz musician Joe Lovano played at Dazzle in Denver on Jan. 30, 2013. Photo of Lovano courtesy of his website.

The goatee and barrel-chested frame may be trademarks, but musically, jazz master Joe Lovano is a chameleon.

Whether Hammond B3 jazz, big band, hard bop, avant garde or world music, Grammy winner Lovano has found his voice through it all for going on five decades now. Wednesday night at Dazzle, Lovano proved he’s in no hurry to slow down after celebrating his 60th birthday last month (nor to give up his orange-, black- and white-striped shirt circa 1988). Lovano’s Us Five band played a challenging 7 p.m. set that had the sellout crowd both engaged and slightly off balance, with fiery bursts from Lovano’s tenor and a rhythm section that included two drummers and fellow Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding on bass.

The set drew largely from the band’s three albums together — “Folk Art,” “Bird Songs” and “Cross Culture,” the latter released on the Blue Note label this month. In opener “Us Five,” Lovano chopped the song up into shorter bits with longer pauses while stalking the stage as if in search of reactions from the audience. Pianist James Weidman echoed Lovano’s phrases deftly on “Blessings in May.” Drummers Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III syncopated their beats masterfully during the sharp-angled “In a Spin,” while Lovano played with the tension of the composition, building it and letting it go.

Lovano’s saxophone tone is one of the few in the history of jazz to combine both warmth and angularity as if they were natural complements. As for Spalding, she wowed the audience several times with melodic and exploratory solos. Lovano has said of her, “(she’s) very special… she plays with a real sense of dialogue and interplay.” The same has always been true of Lovano, even in free jazz settings. You never feel he’s taking off on his own to show you what a great player he is. Instead, and maybe because he’s played drums often, he’s an improviser who’s always listening to his rhythm section and what’s happening within the band, reacting in that collective moment.

Billy Strayhorn’s haunting “Star Crossed Lovers” closed the set. Lovano passed the ending a few times, stretching out the lyrical tones. All of the night’s busier interplay seemed to melt into the ballad’s melody.

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Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and recently completed his novel, “As We Used to Sing.” His selected work can be read at samdeleo.com.

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