The Motian-Frisell-Lovano trio reconvenes from time to time without predictable outcome. I heard them live in Germany seven years back in a mainly Monk programme — the date was Friday 13th, and Lovano stormed like Coleman Hawkins’ blazing best. This set’s very different, other than the title track, a Jerome Kern ballad played wonderfully in somewhat out of tempo fashion, every tune is Motian’s — if such a melodic fragment at “Osmosis Pt. III” can be called a tune. A lot of this set is free jazz trying both to make sense and be beautiful. Even a near miss might be worth praise, that objective being both so distant and so difficult of attainment.
The performances are more logical than some Motian has led or participated in on disc this past year — I’ve not heard every new issue with Motian but four at least have crossed my path since mid-2004. Here he thrashes and churns, which he can and does do quietly when required, rather than apply physically more economical means of generating the polyvalent patterns which commonly do hold together performances in which he takes part.
The opening couple of tracks are echoey with Frisell’s guitar in harp or quiet chiming territory. On the third, “Odd Man”, Lovano’s tenor playing is lively but gentle, and Motian is all over his drum kit, and if his dynamic control allows him to sound like distant thunder he’s nonetheless thundering. The guitarist and tenorist play prettily, not for the last time here, and not for the last time there’s a folk melody, simple lyrically poignant phrases.
“Shadows” brings more turbulence from Motian, but balmy guitar with echo and even pussycat velvety Lovano, remarkably tender in his horn’s upper register, suspending high notes but also having the occasional purr below. The title track is from Jerome Kern and Lovano is at his most caressing, playing in a style more commonly to be associated with unaccompanied solo performance. He doesn’t stray far from the outline of variations on the melody, but there are no bar-lines. Motian plays cross-rhythms — cymbals and brushes — and Frisell shadows. This might be an attempt to present a model of what Motian wants done with hisown very bitty compositions. It’s an unusual ballad masterpiece on a level with anything done on Motian’s On Broadway sets or the recent sets with George Mras and Hank Jones.
“Osmosis Pt, I” is pretty well New Age meditation music, complete with another neo-folk maybe slightly neo-Celtic tune,. Frisell in mandolin and dulcimer land, with cymbals and soft saxophone. “Dance” takes Lovano back up to the top of his horn, there’s unison work with Frisell and some free playing. There is an interesting attempt really to swing without bar-lines and a chorus structure. This item rises to a really very good ending
That’s the way this set goes, Lovano conjuring melodic lines over at times nearly (but never quite) hyperactive cymbal-work and drumming. The vulnerable entry, vocally poignant, Frisell’s guitar in affectionate rapport and in the later numbers the lyrical contrast to all that sounding drum and cymbal really getting somewhere.
“The Riot Act” is slightly reminiscent of an Albert Ayler performance, though Ayler could never play like Lovano. There’s a strange alternation between New Age lyricism and the noise of tons of metal sheering, in the guitar contributions. Frisell, if you don’t know, has the apparatus to give his axe a sort of organ power. “The Bag Man” has a similar start but more fragmentation, and then yet another of those simple small themes. The alternation of duo interactions builds here to another climax, in the still small theme — Frisell switches betwixt bass guitar and melodica sounds. “One in Three” seems to be about the harmony of the spheres, the music is at least as astral as Sun Ra’s outer-spaced stuff. Did Motian ever thrash more, did Frisell ever make more beautiful noises — even without, as here, doing it at the same time, and with Lovano’s astonishing warmth present too?
On the closer, “Dreamland”, a fragmented ballad, Motian tosses and turns and in his pursuit of tender poignancy Lovano comes close to the sound of Lester Young. I am aware that Stanley Crouch invokes the name of Lester Young in the liner to a recent Charles Lloyd album: and is there talking nonsense again. Lovano is however always the very real thing.