Remember the Push-Me-Pull-You, the two-headed llama from Dr. Dolittle? Like Hugh Lofting's imaginary beast, the latest effort from Paul Motian (cum Trio 2000 + One) seems to be heading in several directions at once. Like the previous three recordings in the On Broadway
series, it features "standards from the Great White Way in a relatively understated and interactive group setting, but the rendering of each tune differs radically, with crucial changes in the supporting cast.
Pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, featured on five tracks, brings vocal "inarticulations (picked up via close mic'ing), unusual chord voicings and accompaniment textures, and a gently cubist approach to deconstructing melodies that's more suggestive than emphatic. The remaining tracks substitute vocalist Rebecca Martin, whowith the exception of "Tea for Two, done as a balladoffers straightforward interpretations of the songs (faithfully including their lesser-known verses) in a timbre more often associated with alternative rock or twangless country.
The saddle between these divergent aesthetics is provided by Motian, bassist Larry Grenadier and saxophonist Chris Potter. The drummer, as always, is the epitome of simpatico, while Grenadier and Potter ameliorate the anarchythe bassist through consistent rhythmic pulsing and emphasis of chord tones, the tenor saxophonist through obbligato parts and creatively articulated solos that supply (or strongly imply) the inner voices of the underlying harmonic progression.
The strength of Motian's earlier efforts in this vein lie in the amalgamation of "in" and "out," a delicate balance in which freedom is anchored within a discernible structure; here, two co-dominant interpretative aesthetics alternately emphasize black and white extremes at the expense of those fascinating grays only possible in the middle.
Personnel: Paul Motian: drums; Chris Potter: saxophone; Larry Grenadier: bass; Rebecca Martin: vocals; Masabumi Kikuchi: piano.