A welcome reunion for one of the most empathic outfits of recent times...
Peter Marsh 2003
Back in the 80s, drummer Paul Motian's association with guitarist Bill Frisell and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano led to a great run of recordings for the ECM and JMT labels in a variety of guises, including collaborations with Charlie Haden, Paul Bley and others. For some it was the trio of guitar, drums and tenor that made the most impact, and certainly as a live band they had very few equals.
Motian provides all the material for this long awaited reunion,apart from one Monk tune ("Dreamland") and the Jerome Kern ballad that gives the album its title. It's on this latter track (ie in the context of a familiar tune)where Motian's rhythmic approach is best highlighted. Rarely (if ever) does the drummer play time; or if he does, it's set so obliquely against everything else that, even at its most emphatic, the music has an unlocked, floatyquality about it. His own compositions are mostly fragmented, mournful affairs, stuffed with bursts of folkish melodies and oblique twists, and they provide much for Lovano and Frisell to chew on in their improvisations.
While nowadays the guitarist seems content to recede into the background a little further with each new venture he gets involved in, this trio has always been one of the best showcases for his playing. While he's maybe not as forthright as he was on earlier records, all the signifiers are there; Jim Hall's chamber jazz stylings, little slivers of the blues and Nashville twang, topped off with adiscreet use of electronics. He's a supreme colourist and his solos can still dazzle; it's good to know he can still do it.
Lovano remains one of the greatest tenor players around; his phenomenal technique allows him to roam the upper ranges of his instrument without much audible effort. Notes seem to flow from the bell rather than being squeezed, and Lovano seasons everything he does with liberal (yet equal amounts) of soul and intellect as he curls his tenor round Frisell's spectral chording.
The only slight bugbear here is that the album is too long and unbalanced. Though a couple of pieces (notably "The Riot Act") kick up a bit more dust, their placement towards the end of the album is too late to work effectively as contrast to thecrepescular ballads that have gone before. But I'm nitpicking -at its best this is incomparably lovelymusic, made one of the most empathic units of recent times. Essential stuff.