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Joe Lovano, Us Five, St George’s, March 29.

April 3, 2011

Wow. He only managed one night at Ronnie Scott’s on this brief swing through the UK – can’t imagine why – but Lovano did make it out West to St George’s. This was always going to be a good bet for gig of the year, and did not disappoint. This is a great band, led by a great musician at his continuing career peak. An unbroken 90 minute set. No real highlights, because the whole thing went on at such a high level highlights are impossible to pick out. The final number before the encore – Viva Caruso – did stand out but for projection of sheer joyous energy a la Rollins rather than because it sounded better or more effective than any of the others. This was just a blast, the only fear being that there was so much musical information packed into every minute one might miss out through losing concentration. How a band does it, on a series of one night stands in another country, is beyond me, but they did.

Mike Collins gives more detail about why it was, as he says, spellbinding, and links to some reviews of the London show. Can’t add much to that, but it was fascinating to hear the energising effect of two drummers in what is otherwise a conventional quartet line-up. It could be a disaster of course – but Lovano is super smart, plays drums himself, has always had an ear for the best on the kit, and has recorded with more than one drummer before (the original version of Viva Caruso – which didn’t sound much like what we heard live – had three!). Although the saxophone playing got pretty free (in a good way) who does what, when on the two trap sets – one with three cymbals, one with four – is obviously carefully thought out. And it sounds fantastic all the way. (Better from where we sat than for Mike, I think). There is just so much good stuff going on with the drums, all the time, and the two drummers seem to make each other, if possible, more thoughtful, more musical. I doubt if many line-ups could bring this off, so probably better admired than emulated, but I hope Us Five stay together long enough for another visit and some more recordings.

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