In the wake of last weekend’s winter storm, cancelled flights left two members of Grammy winning saxophonist Joe Lovano’s quintet stranded in Louisville and Cincinnati. As of showtime last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts, neither had arrived. Amazingly, the absent parties were collected and the concert commenced with only a 20 minute delay.
With the crisis resolved without most of the audience even knowing it took place, Lovano introduced himself by way of an unaccompanied tenor sax solo that merrily echoed around the mighty Singletary Concert Hall.
From there, Lovano’s group jumped into two tunes from his current Folk Art album – Us Five (which doubles as the quintet’s name) and the title composition – that put some novel ensemble dynamics into motion. Specifically, the quintet utilized two drummers. The first, Otis Brown III, largely stayed within the groove of the tune. The other, Francisco Mela, worked more off of Lovano’s turns on the tenor saxophone. But the strategies shifted regularly. Sometimes Mela sat out, especially when the fine Us Five pianist James Wiedman received his all-too-few solo spots. Sometimes the cross-rhythms created an almost samba like grace, as in Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes – one of several works to feature the quintet’s “sixth” member, vocalist Judi Silvano (Lovano’s wife). And at times the drummers were in direct, complimentary harmony with each other.
As prominent as the percussion was, though, it was still Lovano’s leads on tenor sax, the clarinet-like tarogato and aulochrome that fueled the 100 minute performance. The latter, a contemporary creation that fuses two soprano saxophones together, revealed a wild chromatic range during the John Coltrane-ish turns of Big Ben. Lovano’s more familiar but equally robust tenor sax sound nicely turned the heat up under Sanctuary Park and neatly played off Silvano’s animated vocal charge during Thelonious Monk’s Reflections.
All in all, it was a performance that might have seemed novel given the designs of the instrumentation (and, in the case of the aulochrome, the very instruments). But considering Lovano’s history of musical thrillseeking, the concert was simply another adventure where nothing was more daring or distinctive than the cunning of the jazz intellect drove it.