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Bird Songs (2011)

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Otis III Brown

Joe Lovano has been sufficiently forward-looking to have earned the right to look backward on his 22nd album for Blue Note Records, marking his 20th anniversary with the label. Bird Songs presents songs associated with, written for, and, primarily, written by Bird, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. Lovano employs his group Us Five, which includes pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and two drummers, Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela. Lovano himself plays tenor saxophone for the most part, not alto, which Parker did. That's an immediate hint to his approach. These may be Bird songs, but they are not played the way Bird played them. Lovano and crew tend to slow them down and consider them, as if appending musical footnotes; if Parker was the quintessential bebop player, this is a determinedly post-bop interpretation. Of course, the instrumentation has a lot to do with it, especially the busy clatter set up by the two drummers. The sound is spare enough to give Lovano plenty of room to explore Parker's themes or, in "Lover Man," to reconsider Parker's treatment of a standard. It all comes together in the 12-minute "Yardbird Suite" at the end, which affords both Weidman and Spalding room for their own statements. It's not surprising that Lovano, born the year before Charlie Parker died, would be so thoroughly familiar with his work and so willing to redefine it. ~ William Ruhlmann