The word abstract, when applied to jazz or music in general, is that which has little or none of the components that provide the mind, through the ears, structure and form through repetition.
Most would agree that rhythm is the most basic in that the repetition of groups of beats and the accents upon them quickly gives structure and allows almost anything else to happen over it. Harmony and melody are the other two components that can be more or less clear and obvious. Concrete music generally has more of all three and completely abstract music has little. Time and Time Again
is fascinating music in that so much is said with so little obvious structure. Continually dancing on the edge of total abstraction, drummer Paul Motian, guitarist Bill Frisell and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, who have been together as a trio for almost thirty years, make music of gossamer beauty that defies analysis.
There is virtually no clear rhythmic pulse anywhere on the record, save for Thelonious Monk's "Light Blue", no clear harmonic movement except in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "This Nearly Was Mine" and, perhaps, "Wednesday" (plus the Monk). Full-blown melody is present only in the standard and everywhere else it is represented more as phrases.
So what is it that makes this sparse music so fulfilling? Motian is less a drummer than a percussive colorist who uses mostly cymbals and small drums with brushes. Frisell is less a guitarist than a plucking web weaver who occasionally uses electronics. Even Lovano plays his instrument against expectation in that he stays mostly in the high register.
The byword here is patience and lack of expectation. Do not try to impose structure on this music but rather listen to the three lines (and yes, the drumming is most definitely a line) interact. Listen to these master musicians react in real time to each other, producing music of great depth.
What you might find happening as the record is played again and again is that its secrets open themselves willingly to you. More pulse, melody and harmony will appear and suddenly become obvious, which means they were always there. The abstract will become concrete
. Did the music change or did you?
Perhaps you will hear the melodic contour of "Wednesday" resemble a stretched out "Light Blue." Perhaps the inclusion of the standard, and especially the Monk tune, will be seen as helping you see concreteness and abstraction not as mutually exclusive, but rather as being on a continuum.
Frisell says that it "feels new every time" he plays with Motian and Lovano, despite the familiarity that time brings. Music that forever remains new to the listener is a rare thing. As they say when practicing yogajust remember to breathe.