Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Sep 10th 2009 4:30PM by Tad Hendrickson
You'll not find a trio of more disparate strong voices than drummer Paul Motian, saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell, yet they come together under Motian's leadership to be one of the most inspired and innovative trios working today.
Motian cemented his place in history as the drummer for Bill Evans' classic trio with bassist Scott LaFaro when they recorded the legendary 'Waltz With Debby' and 'Sunday at the Village Vanguard,' but he's had a long and storied career playing with the likes of Monk, Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley and many others. At 78, he's not playing outside New York these days, but he's still active in town, either leading his Electric Bebop Band or playing for another leader, in this trio or in Trio 2000, which has a new album titled 'On Broadway, Vol. 5.'
Whatever the context, Motian has an instantly recognizable style that could best be described as elliptical: Rather than handling regular drum obligations of providing an anchor or insistent pulse to the music, he colors with his sticks, rattling them across the cymbals and drums skins, occasionally punctuating a thought with a crack of the snare or kick drum. Some have called his style not unlike Monk's piano playing, and they wouldn't be wrong.
Motian first assembled the trio with Frisell and Lovano, who were Berklee School of Music classmates, in 1981 (after the three played in a quintet) and has played on and off with them ever since, recording a handful of albums together, including the excellent 'It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago' (1984) and more recently 'I Have a Room Above Her' (2005) and 'Time and Time Again' (2007). It's right around Labor Day in recent years that the three convene for another run atVillage Vanguard, playing two weeks of sets to sellout crowds at the hallowed New York nightspot.
The final set of the 2009 run was the 11 p.m. set on Sept. 6, and it was both typical and brilliant. The audience, which included such musicians as Ravi Coltrane and Sex Mob's Briggan Krauss, was dead silent as the trio took the stage. The band began quietly with Frisell starting things off with his uniquely echo-laden tone leaving notes hanging in the air as Motian wove delicate cymbal patterns around them. It was a musical spell cast quietly enough in the 123-capacity basement room to easily hear the nearby subway rumbling by under Seventh Street as well as legendary club owner Lorraine Gordon directing staff and audience traffic from her seat near the door. Both, however, only added to the ambiance of the set.
As Lovano jumped into the mix with his robust tenor playing, he seemed as if he was dicing and slicing the ideas presented by the other two with insistent staccato lines. Lovano typically leads his own groups in a way that recalls the bop vibe of early '60s Coltrane, but he is extremely broad and flexible in his approach, here bringing most of the evening's melody out with his horn.
With his back to the audience, facing his amp and bandmates, Bill Frisell has a way of conveying a panoramic feel, never overplaying it -- even when he utilizes delays and other effects, sometimes sampling himself to create richly textured tapestries of harmony and rhythm. As with Motian, he brings his singular sound to the group intact from what he normally does on his own albums, such as the brand-new 'Disfarmer.'
With so much time together as a trio, the chemistry is extremely loose. Oftentimes Frisell and Lovano will come together to play a song's refrain, but the three work in separate universes sonically. The sound is more about interlocking ideas instead of uniform ones. Like Motian's drumming, the agenda seems that to be that leaving things out is just as important as adding things in. The overall sound is complex, fresh, detailed and unexpected. There was no telling which way the band would go, whether it was waxing lyrical on a standard, playing a Monk tune or picking its way through one of Motian's thorny originals.
In this respect, the Vanguard is the perfect room for the trio: It's small enough where the music's subtlety shines through without the aid of a PA system. This room that's shaped like a slice of pie has been the scene of countless landmark sets and accompanying albums over the years, and it also functions as the perfect home turf for the band. Those lucky enough to be there -- there was a line down the sidewalk and another for those without reservations hoping to get a seat -- watched as one legend and two modern-day icons on their way to legend status played in one of their most memorable combos. They play together because it still sounds so good -- and based on the crowd's response, two weeks a year isn't enough.
This week on All About Jazz:
The great Lester Young would have been 100 on Aug. 27. Read about this giant and the personal remembrances of musician David Amram here.
There are not one but two articles on baritone saxophonists this week. Read up on two of today's best: John Surman and Gary Smulyan.
Roberta Gambarini is one of today's best new singers. Check out a review of 'So in Love.'