Seeing the Paul Motian Trio perform in the late ’80s was such an extraordinary experience that I stayed for the second show and returned the following night. Reducing even the most complex compositions to clusters of sparse chords, arpeggios, and implied bass lines, Bill Frisell’s singular guitar approach intertwined almost supernaturally with Joe Lovano’s luscious post-bop sax lines and Motian’s astonishingly fresh and nuanced drumming. Simply put: Those shows were two of the most memorable musical experiences of my life—and the CDs that I purchased shortly afterwards brimmed with much of the same magic.
Two decades later, the trio’s rarified ensemble empathy is still evident and the music is equally transcendent, though it has mellowed slightly with age. Other than the classic Kern/Hammerstein title track and a version of Monk’s “Dreamland,” the songs on this disc were penned by Motian, though the group identity is so strong that one might easily imagine them to be equal collaborations—something that is only possible when musicians really listen to each other. This music is timeless both in the sense of existing apart from specific trends, and in the literal sense of leading the listener to a space where there is only the present moment. And that is, after all, what great improvisation is all about. ECM. —Barry Cleveland