Paul Motion in Tokio
Winter & Winter 919 052-2

Preeminently a group drummer, Paul Motian’s solo sessions always seem to find him embedded within the band — and this one is no exception.

Well-recorded and low-key, the 10 tunes on this reissue of the 1991 IN TOKIO CD are also all of a piece. Leisurely almost to the point of listlessness, the music is most noteworthy for providing a glimpse of saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell before their playing had hardened into their characteristic present day styles.

Frisell especially is a revelation. Rather than employing the phlegmatic countrypolitan licks he uses now, the younger Frisell was more aggressive firing off clipped dynamics and wavering distortion to make his points. At one juncture he breaks time with whammy bar flanging, almost propelling his solo into rock territory.

Today the epitome of the heavy-toned tenor saxist, Lovano here reveals an unexpected delicacy, at times ascending to a feathery, alto-like pitch in his solos. This mellowness doesn’t prevent him from extending himself if the occasion arises, however. Adding double tongued slurs in places and staccatissimo overblowing and honks elsewhere, his most common modus operandi is spraying out long lines to intersect with the guitarist’s chording fills.

Recorded within a few days of the drummer’s 60th birthday, IN TOKIO finds Motian sticking to the understated rhythmic flow which made his reputation in pianist Bill Evans’ most important trio with bassist Scott LaFaro, and in bands with pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Charlie Haden. Melodic overall, at times he appears to be sandpapering the drum tops and rattling the toms and cymbals with brush strokes.

Surrounded by adagio intermezzos, the nearly 11 minute “Mumbo Jumbo” showcases Lovano and Frisell’s version of double counterpoint, as waves of distorted reverb and extended echo conflate in such a way that it almost seems like two saxophones and two guitars have been added to the mix. Meantime Motian lays into the cymbals, snares and cowbells with ratamacues and drags. Suggesting gymel — a medieval technique of splitting one part into two with the same range — Lovano’s centrepiece is a solo that finds him breaking away from the others for a reed biting, glottal tear of repeated tones, flattement and irregularly accentuated notes.

Ending with amplifier buzz, the piece engenders the sort of polite applause with which the Japanese audience greets all the compositions here. Only on “It Is”, the penultimate track, with its whacked rat-tat-tat drumming and long-lined sax tones, is there louder applause and a few screams.

A memorable, but not particularly unusual live outing, this CD will probably be most enjoyed by those who appreciated this trio first time out and have been awaiting this reissue.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. From Time To Time 2. Shakalaka 3. Kathelin Gray 4. The Hoax 5. Mumbo Jumbo 6. Birdsong I 7. Mode VI 8. Women From Padua 9. It Is 10. Birdsong II

Personnel: Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone); Bill Frisell (guitar); Paul Motian (drums)