Though he's led larger ensembles, drummer Paul Motian seems to be most comfortableor, at the very least, most interestedin working within the particular confines and freedoms of the trio. Whether it's his quarter century old group with guitarist Bill Frisell
and saxophonist Joe Lovano
, or the early saxophone/bass/drums trio of Dance
(ECM, 1978) and Le Voyage
(ECM, 1979), Motian has spent much of his career as a leader exploring a format less intimate than the duo, perhaps, but still small enough a conversational context to allow its participants to speak with a single voice. Lost In A Dream
, recorded live at New York's Village Vanguard in the winter of 2009, features a new trio with saxophonist Chris Potter
, with whom Motian has worked since 1994, and pianist Jason Moran
, whose relationship with the iconic drummer is just beginning.
Being an all-acoustic ensemble, the trio lacks the inherent ethereality of Motian's group with the electrically expansive Frisell, most notably on 2005's I Have the Room Above Her (ECM), but that doesn't mean it can't approach similar rarified atmospheres. Potter may be a firebrand when working with bassist Dave Holland, heard recently on the incendiary The Monterey Quartet: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival, 2009), but here he proves himself as much a master of restraint as Motian, who contributes all but one track to this collection. Potter plays, in fact, with unusual economy and a softer-than-usual timbre, holding off until over 20 minutes into this hour-long set, and the aptly titled "Blue Midnight," before turning up the heat and leaning more towards his typically robust tone and expressionist approach.
The entire set works on an upward trajectory, progressing into increasingly liberated and powerful landscapes. The trio draws on material dating as far back as Voyage, including the free-wheeling "Drum Music" and equally open-ended "Abacus," a solo feature for Motian, whose textural breadth and dynamism continue to evolve, even as he approaches octogenarian status. Motian's newer material leans largely towards the subdued and lyrical, including the closing "Cathedral," where Moran plays with a gentility slightly skewed by his characteristically idiosyncratic tendencies.
Moran's career continues to be a curious one. Since emerging in the late-1990s, his best work has been under the leadership of others, most notably saxophonist Charles Lloyd's Rabo de Nube (ECM, 2008) and reedman Don Byron's Ivey-Divey (Blue Note, 2005). Lost In a Dream demonstrates his specific aptitude as a band member rather than band leader once again, as the pianist provides a shifting harmonic context for this bass-less trio, working beautifully with Motian's in-the-moment layering of percussive colors.
"Casino," the disc's longest track, demonstrates the trio's ability to mine the nuances of Motian's sketch-like writing, while the knotty, rubato "Ten" provides both Moran and Potter the chance to explore greater strength and tensility. Lost In A Dream may be the first salvo from this empathic new trio, but hopefully it won't be the last.