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Just in time for the iconic label’s 50th anniversary, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano releases his first recording as a leader for the ECM label. Lovano has graced ECM projects before, most notably as a vital third of the great Paul Motian Trio, alongside guitarist Bill Frisell, for roughly a quarter century. The aptly titled Trio Tapestry, among Lovano’s most free-spirited and poetic recordings to date, might be considered an extension of Motian’s classic trio.
With his painterly and supremely sensitive bandmates — stellar inside-outside pianist Marilyn Crispell and unabashedly Motian-ish drummer-percussionist Carmen Castaldi — Lovano is in uncommonly impressionistic form. The saxophonist channels what could be called an “ECM sensibility” within his eclectic musical vocabulary, composing an 11-track journey which is not only bass-less but often “pulseless,” at least in terms of a steady, identifiable groove.
From the opening tune, “One Time In,” through the jagged, post-serial melodic designs of “Razzle Dazzle” and “Sparkle Lights” and the sinuous dialogue of “Tarrassa,” the threesome embraces subtle characters of rhythmic nuance, color, understated musical crosstalk and an almost spiritual appreciation of space (another notable ECM quality). On “Mystic,” Lovano picks up his soprano sax for a duet with Castaldi’s softly thundering tom-toms and gong textures, then graciously lays out and yields to his allies on “Piano/Drum Episode” and “Gong Episode.”
Even presumably rhythmic pieces have caveats: “Seeds of Change” is a deceptively elastic waltz/not-waltz, its melody less fixed than it might seem; on “Rare Beauty,” the bold Ornette Coleman-ish rush of tumbling melody soon eases back into the album’s prevailing mood of structural openness and emotive search mode. And the final track, “The Smiling Dog,” is a short, restless and toothy beast of a tune, expanding the emotional landscape on the way out.
Trio Tapestry is a quietly masterful album by an important jazz veteran with something new and deep to say, and the right record label for the occasion.— Josef Woodard
Featured photo by Jimmy Katz.