Music News & Reviews

Critic's pick: Joe Lovano Us Five and Jack DeJohnette

During the past three decades, Joe Lovano and Jack DeJohnette have been as stylistically daring as they have been prolific.

Tenor sax giant Lovano, with a Blue Note catalog that now features 22 albums, has recorded with combos, stellar duos, rich symphonic sessions and more. Drummer DeJohnette, who is also a versed pianist, goes back to Miles Davis' post-bop electric records of the late 1960s and remains, after a quarter-century, the anchor to Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio. But his dossier also reveals everything from collaborations with stellar guitarists (John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell) to recordings with world music and spiritual inclinations that have surfaced of late on his own label.

That's the back story. The cool news is Lovano and DeJohnette have new recordings that are as experimental and as engaging as any of their past triumphs.

Lovano's Folk Art, due out May 26, is a conversational, flirtatious album that employs a novel instrumental lineup of tenor sax, bass, piano and two drummers.

In terms of timbre and design, it also borrows from the quietly gripping music Lovano has made over the years with drummer Paul Motian. Wild Beauty, specifically, reflects a spaciousness where Lovano's warm tenor lead floats above his band's wide-open groove.

Lovano's new band, emphasizes the percussion tag team of Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela. But the groove splinters just as the tune's boppish melody fractures into free jazz-flavored passages.

Lovano certainly doesn't shy away from sustained melodies. A lovely reverie led by pianist James Weidman emerges on Page 4. But like so much of Folk Art, the resulting improvisational sparring plays right into the album's conversational charm.

DeJohnette's new trio recording, Music We Are, features bassist John Patitucci and pianist Danilo Perez — all-stars singularly who together form the backbone of Wayne Shorter's long-running quartet. But there is craftiness in the heart of the trio's makeup.

To start with, each artist operates with two voices. Perez primarily plays piano but accents this music with modest orchestration on electric keyboards. Similarly, Patitucci plays acoustic and neo-funkified electric bass. With the piano chair ably filled, DeJohnette's countering voice is on the portable mouth organ instrument known as the melodica, which provides accordionlike colors.

Match all of that with DeJohnette's vast world music vocabulary, and you have Tango African. Here, melodica and bass create a light, harmonious groove. The music loosens for more instinctual interplay on the two-part Seventh D. From there, Music We Are reveals numerous ensemble voices, from the sunny, Pan-American strut of Cobilla to the beautiful acoustic balladry of Panama Viejo to a contemplative mix of chiming percussion, bowed bass and piano on Earth Prayer.

Music We Are and Folk Art are the works of two jazz giants versed in the ways of filling a room with sound. But their magic doesn't come from showing off how pervasive or huge that sound can be. Instead, Lovano and DeJohnette turn their energies inward here. The resulting music is plenty muscular, but it's also enormously inviting and cordial.

Walter Tunis, Contributing Music Critic