While he has recorded for the label on albums including Paul Bley's Not Two, Not One and, more recently, Marilyn Crispell's Storyteller , it has been twenty years since drummer Paul Motian last recorded under his own name for ECM. His last recording as a leader, 1984's It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago , was responsible for launching the trio that has perhaps best defined his singular vision and certainly represents the largest percentage of his oeuvre. But it was on a series of recordings for JMT where the trio really came into its own.
Or so one would have thought. Now, with the release of I Have The Room Above Her , Motian returns to ECM with an album that may be the best of his trio recordings with saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell. It also re-establishes his working relationship with label owner/producer Manfred Eicher and, in the process, offers something that will be familiar to long-time fans, but subtly different as well.
What is truly remarkable is how each member's musical personality, honed in such different contexts when left to their own devices, melds into a distinctive collective personality when placed together. There's little of the Americana that has so occupied Frisell's interest in recent years, but subtle tinges emerge on tunes like "Odd Man Out," which begins with a simple folksy premise but ultimately yields the more oblique nature that earmarks the best of Motian's writing: indirect, yet gently lyrical at the same time. And Lovano's more extroverted work on his own projects may be more restrained here, but it simply demonstrates a more delicate and elegant sense of adventure, especially on "Dance," which revisits a piece from Motian's '78 recording of the same name.
Motian, as always, is a master of understatement and avoiding the obvious. Never content to be a mere timekeeper, his conception for the trio has always been one of democratic interplay, where every player is a colourist. But this record seems even more about texture than usual. The album has an intriguing narrative arc, the first half being more ethereal and introspective, starting with "Osmosis Part III," which, with its languid theme and Frisell's subtle use of looping, approaches a more spacious ambience than anything the trio has done previously. From "Dance" forward, the trio takes a relatively more assertive stance, but retains a certain open-ended approach that makes it a perfectly sensible evolution from the first half. And it's great to see an emphasis on Motian's writingother than the title track and Monk's "Dreamland," all of the compositions are his.
Eicher's touch seems to motivate the trio to even more ambiguity than usual, but Motian's thematic sketches give every piece weight and substance, even at their most intangible. I Have The Room Above Her is the first of a number of recordings with Motian slated for release on ECM in coming months, and it's a suitably intrepid yet understated return to the fold.
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Personnel: Paul Motian: drums, Bill Frisell: guitar, Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone.