The late Bill Evans once said that he couldn’t claim to understand Zen Buddhism — he just found it comforting “and very similar to jazz … It’s got to be experienced because it’s feelings not words.” Those were Evans’ musings around 1960 when he was pioneering a new kind of openness and expressiveness in his Village Vanguard trio recordings; the group seemed weightless, at times, suspended in space. Those guys could really turn up the quiet when they needed to.
Forty-plus years later, Evans’ sentiments come to mind with the latest from this very different trio of saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist Bill Frisell and leader-drummer Paul Motian (an Evans trio alum). It begins with a softly voiced phrase that seems to float through nearly six minutes of repetition and gentle variations; it ends with Thelonious Monk’s rarely recorded, and aptly titled, “Dreamland”; in between we get the likewise rarely heard Hammerstein-Kern title track, plus originals that largely come across as post-Ornette lullabies, and one still more delicate reading of the lead-off piece. Motian and his bandmates can stomp and throw their weight around, as they show on “The Riot Act,” for instance, but they mainly show they can soft-shoe and tiptoe.
Motian first hired Frisell and Lovano in the ’80s when they were virtually unknown. That they’re now stars (to the extent that anyone in mainstream jazz is a star) doesn’t get in the way of a reunion that’s more about group chemistry than individual chops.
“Feelings not words,” indeed.
W. Kim Heron is the managing editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.