‘Hotly anticipated’ doesn’t quite do justice to the buzz in the St.Georges bar before Us Five ambled onto the stage on Tuesday night. The blizzard of admiring reviews that followed the Ronnie Scotts gig (take your pick: Guardian, Evening Standard, FT) give some sense of the reverence in which the tenor man is held by jazz aficionados and the collective power of this latest venture with which he’s recorded the two most recent albums of his twenty five for the iconic Blue Note label. And his band, whilst yet to acquire house hold name status were extraordinary both in their individual virtuosity, and in the empathy and responsiveness between them. What has stayed with me is the strength of the connections within the band that were played out on stage. Lovano was always the connecting thread; the evening started with an unaccompanied, breathy tenor sketching out melodic lines and sliding off into little flurries of notes. And then those different relationship took hold, sometimes between the two drummers, sometimes between drummers and piano. An up-tempo almost frenetic latin groove evoked a storming, percussive piano solo from James Weidman which seemed to urge Franciso Mela on to an even greater clatter of rythms. The acoustic in St. Georges did the band no favours at those moments. I could feel the excitement, but I could only hear the drums. John Fordham quotes Joe Lovano as saying he doesn’t play free jazz, but plays jazz free. That is a lovely summary of the way this band swings. Some of the most transporting moments were when the band was swinging together on tunes like Donna Lee – there was a looseness, almost as if some were rushing and others hanging back but the sum of the whole was a perfect almost heart stopping lilt with the tenor’s phrases sliding over the top. Other tunes were utterly deconstructed with Parker’s Yardbird Suite appearing as an out of time plaintive sighing theme before some quite free soloing from the band. This was music led by a master steeped in all the jazz of the last 60 years so that its just seems to leak out of him effortlessly. A spell binding evening.
Joe Lovano – Us Five, St. Georges, Bristol, Tuesday 29th March