But what makes this trio so riveting is that the music swings, rocks, sizzles, simmers—and I don’t understand idea how the contraption holds together; I can only marvel at the feat, sit back, and take it in.
Lovano blows the tenor sax with a warm, husky tone, sometimes as a bop balladeer, sometimes in Coltrane sheets of sound. (Lovano is shaping up to be the heir to Sonny Rollins.) Frisell plucks his twangy electric guitar, occasionally strums slightly off-centered chords, more often carves out single-line counterpoint or beams atmospheric warbling. Motian (who’s 78 but could pass for 60 and sounds younger still) klook-a-mops and shimmer-shammers the drumkit, constantly shifting rhythm and tempo; his lines seem to have almost no connection to what the other players are doing, yet the more you listen, the more you realize that he’s weaving the web that makes the sounds whole.
I’ve heard Motian many times, with many bands, over the years; he pulls this rabbit out of a hat nearly every time; and I don’t see how he does it. I once asked Frank Kimbrough, an excellent pianist who’s played with him a few times, what Motian is doing. Kimbrough, who’s normally eloquent on such matters, replied, “I don’t know, man, it’s magic.”
For those unable to make the Vanguard sets, immerse yourself in Time and Time Again, the trio’s enchanting 2007 album on ECM. Also check out Lovano’s new albums, Folk Art and (as a sideman to Steve Kuhn) Mostly Coltrane (on Blue Note and ECM respectively), and Frisell’s duet masterpiece with Jim Hall, Hemispheres (on Artistshare), all of which I’ve written about in this space.
Frisell also has a brand new CD, Disfarmer (on Nonesuch), a quartet album—with fellow guitarist Greg Leisz, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and bassist Viktor Krauss—featuring original tunes inspired by the haunting pictures of rural Americans taken in the 1930s and ‘40s by the photographer known as Disfarmer. The music is more folk and country than jazz; it’s as evocative in its way as Erik Friedlander’s Block Ice & Propane another hybrid, inspired by memories of going on summertime family car rides across the country with his father, the photographer Lee Friedlander. And that's saying a great deal.