Paul Motian: Lost In A Dream (ECM 2128)

Lost In A Dream

Paul Motian
Lost In A Dream

Chris Potter tenor saxophone
Jason Moran piano
Paul Motian drums
Recorded live February 2009 at the Village Vanguard, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Drummer Paul Motian, saxophonist Chris Potter, and pianist Jason Moran: the kind of dream you want to get lost in. This equilateral triangle of melody, form, and affect came together at Motian’s behest for a week of performances at New York’s Village Vanguard, from which he and producer Manfred Eicher culled the present disc. These live morsels reflect a cross-section of Motian’s career as both performer (by this point having shared about a decade of history with Potter and a single performance with Moran) and composer (all the tunes, some new and some old, are by Motian, except for a sweet take on Irving Berlin’s “Be Careful It’s My Heart”).

Among the album’s many benefits, it’s particularly wonderful to hear Potter, a player known for his robust command and dynamism, emote with such artful delicacy. In both “Birdsong” (last heard on TATI, in the company of Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani) and “Mode VI,” Potter elicits tons of emotional power by his restraint. In the latter tune especially, which opens the album with a whisper, he fans the trio’s creative pilot light in pastels and charcoals. He also knows when to set the horn aside, letting Moran and Motian play on as a duo, drums brushing away the piano’s footprints in a dance as melodic as anything elicited at the keyboard. Motian is indeed the core of this music’s being, turning on a ballerina’s toe in a light made audible by breath, reed, and chamber.

If not obvious already, Motian and his bandmates are as much painters as they are musicians. Their evocative skills turn simple titles like “Casino” and “Blue Midnight” into moving pictures. A lone figure sits at the betting table, a losing hand before him. The only real comfort comes from the piano bar, the music of which slices through his inebriation like a paper cut, an Ace of Spades flicked toward the heart, where it remains lodged in hopes that something other than its pip might bleed. The looseness of such moments best exemplifies the photo montage on the album’s cover, which teases out regularity from city streets. (At one point, Potter and Moran lapse into simple scales, as if to remind themselves that even abstraction begins with practice.) Here is where the musculature of the trio becomes paramount, as tactile as its subject matter is ethereal.

The title track is the most grounded tune. Moran’s playing is sumptuous here. The gently insistent rhythm hints at swing, but shelves catharsis for another day. “Ten,” by comparison, ups the heat with a bubbling, rubato energy that draws the crowd. It is the exhale to the inhale of “Drum Music” and “Abacus,” established tunes that reference Motian’s classic Le Voyage. Where one unleashes a torrent of startlingly fractal music, the other cradles the most masterful turn of the set in the form of Motian’s solo. Bookended by thematic confirmations, it is the genius of an artist speaking as one with his instrument rather than through it. It lingers on the palate long after the finish, drawn through the concluding “Cathedral Song” beneath the skim of Moran’s night sailing and Potter’s hymnal moon.

This trio, in this context, emotes so tenderly that it might collapse in on itself were it not for the strength of its bones. It speaks to us as it speaks to the cosmos: without the need for translation. Your body comes pre-equipped to decode its poetry, and when you buy this album, you are giving yourself a sacred gift. If you love jazz, then do your heart some good and bring these sounds home. A masterpiece, pure and simple.

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