Pianos have rarely been featured in drummer Paul Motian's ensembles, though his years with Bill Evans
and Keith Jarrett
have surely left an impression on his approach to balladry. Lost in a Dream
is a collection of Motian ballads recorded at the Village Vanguard in early 2009, with Motian in the intriguing company of pianist Jason Moran
and saxophonist Chris Potter
The empathy here is pronounced. Never restricted by the role of mere time-keeper, Motian's touch and free, impressionistic playing sets the tone for these performances and Moran and Potter are set loose to explore the melodic possibilities of the music.
It must have been a task to select ten songs from a week of performances of such obvious caliber, and likely much consideration went into the sequencing of the music which has a logical evolution, growing from the susurrus "Mode VI"all brushes and purring saxand gaining subtly and gradually in force to the free-improvisation of "Ten," "Drum Music" and "Abacus," before closing with the elegiac, powerfully emotive "Cathedral."
Potterwho has a long association with Motiancarries the songs' melodies, with Moran tailing in his slipstream and comping in a manner which is supportive and yet independent. The intuitive give and take, with saxophone and then piano sliding in and out of the spotlight almost imperceptibly, makes for hypnotic listening. The emotional depth invested in the playing is constant and makes it difficult to pick out highlights. Rarely does playing so delicate carry such strength. Potter, for his part has never sounded better, and his phrasingsoft and sinewy, yet loaded with emotional weightrecalls the best of Wayne Shorter
, particularly on the lovely "Blue Midnight" and "Birdsong." On Irving Berlin's "Be Careful It's My Heart," his tenor voice is as tender and as heartfelt as a lullaby to a child.
Moran and Motian dovetail like slowly spiraling feathers on "Birdsong," a beautiful composition which Motian has returned to time and again. The two are the main protagonists on "Ten" where Moran's jagged, dissonant punctuation of his flowing, lyrical runs brings a bittersweet quality to the trio's more urgent performance. 'Drum Music" enters Craig Taborn
experimental territory, with Motian's sharp tattoos and rumbling toms setting Moran off on a free-jazz flight which the drummer follows boldly. "Abacus" is a trademark Motian solo of ever-changing patterns, tones and rhythms and intensity, though his brush work throughout the set is outstandingsounding as fine as the spray of the sea on "Casino." A first-rate set concludes with the beautiful "Cathedral," powerful and spacious.
The acute intuition and openness in the playing on Lost in a Dream
makes for wonderful listening. On the ballads which comprise the majority of the selections the playing sounds like improvisation in slow motion, and the tension created and the beauty inherent is akin to observing a ballet. These are tremendously intimate performances of grace and intensity, which mark a high point in the discographies of all three musicians.