The Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano trio just finished its annual residency at the Village Vanguard, and I caught one of the shows last week: a treat. The place was packed, so my companion (okay, fine, it was Kerry Fried
) and I were directed to one of those tiny tables back near the bar. Not ideal from an acoustic point of view, plus we had to peer over a sea of heads--including the deeply Britannic profile of the actor James Cromwell, seated a row or two in front of us--but once the music began, these distractions faded away. The set opened with a sly version of Monk's "Crepuscule with Nellie." Lovano and Frisell (playing his powder-blue Telecaster) shared the theme, then traded long, leisurely statements. I had wondered whether the trio would tilt toward its contemplative mode, given the gentle simmer of their recent CD, I Have the Room Above Her
. But Lovano--steely and Rollins-like when he bullets through the lower register, and gauzier up above--pushed hard, even on a ballad like "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Motian, whose singsong compositions dominated much of the evening (did I hear "Mumbo Jumbo," from the Sound of Love
disc?), danced aggressively around the beat. And Frisell--well, he did what he always does, tinkering with his tone and attack, mixing clean, single-note runs with sorties into the harmonic hinterlands. For me, his playing is one of the supreme pleasures of contemporary music. Eager, perhaps, to protect his trade secrets, he kept darting behind a structural column to the right of the stage. Yet the shining, eccentric phrases never faltered for a second: our vision might have been obstructed, but his certainly was not.