Paul Motian Trio
Time and Time Again
Joe Lovano tenor saxophone
Bill Frisell guitar
Paul Motian drums
Recorded May 2006 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Paul Motian: a drummer of such intuition that his kit might as well have been a part of his body. Joe Lovano: a saxophonist who lights the way with darkness. Bill Frisell: a guitarist who turns six strings into a symphony. A trio to die for. Then again, why deprive yourself of the luxury? A trio, then, to live for.
Since first meeting in the context of Motian’s Psalm (link) quintet, this nimble nexus worked its tunes for decades from the inside out with freshness intact. As per usual, most of this session’s thematic material comes to us by way of Motian, whose “Cambodia” joins guitar and drums in methodological harmony. Frisell plays around the melody in much the same way that Motian plays around the beat, each descriptive in his approach (check, for example, the crystalline “Whirlpool”), so that when Lovano’s cautious lyricism slinks into the picture, we welcome him as an alley might welcome a stray cat with a song that defines the night. Such feline moods flow through a good portion of the set list, curling their tails around highlights “In Remembrance Of Things Past” and “K.T.” In the latter tune, Motian makes yin and yang of snare and cymbal.
Yet where he truly shines (if not also shades) is in those tracks penned by others, each a space in which he feels content to lurk in admiration of his bandmates’ sensitivities. From the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune “This Nearly Was Mine” and the luminous spirals of Monk’s “Light Blue” to Lovano’s “Party Line,” the drummer’s capacities for melody, swing, and subtlety are on full display. He walks on beds of flowers, leaving pollen for many beds more.
For all the album’s listlessness, an undeniable clarity of expression abounds. We hear this especially in “Onetwo,” both for its thematic fortitude and presence of mind, and in the concluding title ballad. From strings of ordinary things, it weaves extraordinary pictures. The free spirit that moves this trio surfaces nakedly in these swan minutes, turning postcard into movie and recollection into reality.