Motian! Lovano! Frisell! A triumvirate, not a trio.
I’m borrowing the rhetorical flourish above from the late Joyce Wein, who gave it to her husband George for his liner notes to Money Jungle (i.e., Ellington! Mingus! Roach!). The conceit works here too, even if its barking tone sounds flashier than it should. For drummer Paul Motian, saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell, a small gesture often means more than a sweeping one.
Last night I heard the Trio at the Village Vanguard, where they are wrapping up a two-week engagement. The music was nothing less than a serious astonishment, and if I trusted myself I’d say this was the most potent set of theirs I have ever heard. Honestly, though, I’m sure I say that nearly every time. The level of concentration, intuition and flat-out beauty in this band is a rare and stunning thing. I’m inclined to agree with guitarist Nels Cline, who recently opined to me that this is simply “one of the greatest improviser trios of all time.”
I’m going to refrain from anything approaching a reductive review. But I’ll note that there were some Motian originals, played exactingly, along with a standard and a Monk tune. It was a very good night for all three musicians, and especially Frisell, who has the most fluid role in the band. His playing was what provoked the most “a-ha” moments for me, along with a few appreciative chuckles. As for Lovano: gallant and tender. Motian: mischievous and regal. I’m curious to hear impressions from others who were there, so don’t be shy about comments.
I counted a good handful of musicians in the room: Matt Wilson sitting with Marty Ehrlich, Ethan Iverson with Darcy James Argue. A shout out to critic Martin Johnson, too, and to Bret Primack, Jazz Video Guy. Afterward, walking up Greenwich Avenue, I told Martin this was the sort of gig that made me think of Monk and Coltrane at the Five Spot: a must-see, and probably a revelation every single night.
NPR recorded one of this band’s sets from last September, which can be streamed here. I doubt there are any open reservations over the next few nights, but if you have never heard this band in person, just go. Camp out on Seventh Avenue if you have to. Try your hand at ordering tickets online. Stay out late for one of the wee-hours sets. (“From time to time, there is an additional 12:30 a.m. set on Saturday. It’s best to call the club for confirmation of a third set.”) Or hold your breath for next time. I’ll be doing the same.