Not every saxophonist tours in the company of a best new artist Grammy Award winner, but then Joe Lovano isn’t just any saxophonist.
At 60, he’s recognized as a defining figure on the contemporary jazz scene, an artist who’s absorbed a vast array of influences and forged a fluid, rhythmically charged, alluringly textured sound. He opens a three-night run Thursday at Yoshi’s in Oakland with UsFive, his band anchored by bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding, the crossover star who made history in 2011 as the first jazz artist to take home the pop-dominated best new artist Grammy. Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center added a second show Monday after the first show sold out.
The 28-year-old Spalding spent the past two years touring with her “Chamber Music Society” and “Radio Music Society” projects (the latter CD cracked Billboard’s Top 10 album chart). But she remains devoted to Lovano, the most consequential creative connection she made studying at Boston’s Berklee College of Music as a teenager.
Immediately impressed by her technique and presence, Lovano started performing with Spalding in a trio with Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, another Berklee faculty member at the time. Within two years, Spalding was teaching at Berklee, and Lovano started hiring her as a sub for his band, gigs that introduced her to the European scene.