Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks
I have a pretty simple job description: Go to something, watch it, and then tell you about it in a way that gives you a good snapshot of what I saw. I do this about 30-40 times a year, so I’d like to think I’m pretty accomplished at it. And yet, there I was in the center aisle of the Swyer Theatre, people streaming past me after Joe Lovano/Us Five had blown the place up real good, and thinking, “What the hell am I going to say? I mean, besides ‘HOLY SHIT! THAT WAS AWESOME!’”
Us Five, Joe Lovano’s most devilish project yet, is unlike any other animal in the zoo. First, it’s got two drummers – not unheard of in the rock world, but if there are two percussionists onstage in jazz, one of them is usually playing some kind of hand drums. Also, no jazz group I can think of uses drums the way Us Five deploys them. Instead of the drummers driving the train and offering an occasional solo or counter, the relationship here is much more reciprocal: One drummer is either soloing or counter-soloing almost all the time; and Lovano and the other players spend a fair amount of time chasing the drums, not the other way around.
Most importantly, Us Five acts as a unit – more than any band on the menu, in jazz or otherwise. Oh, there were plenty of solo spots, including Lovano’s moment in the clear on tenor sax at the front of the opener “Us Five.” But the whole of Us Five is greater than the sum of its parts, regardless of how amazing those parts may be. Lovano may have played in an open area downstage from the rest of the group, but he was acting and reacting just as much as his partners. That’s more necessary than usual, because when it comes to changes in tune, tone or time, this band literally turns on a dime.