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Paul Motian - Time and Time Again

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Artist: Paul Motian

Album: Time and Time Again

Label: ECM

Review date: Apr. 6, 2007

Several decades on, the musical partnership between drummer Paul Motian, saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell is stronger than ever. One Time Out, their first album as a trio recorded for the Italian Soul Note imprint in 1985, suggested a finite association. Since that bellwether session, they have collaborated on at least a dozen other albums, sometimes in the company of a bassist and/or second saxophonist, but always preserving their core compatibility and composure. Time and Time Again plays on the unintentional myopia of that earlier title and illustrates how profoundly their shared sound has changed since then.

Frisell’s former forays into loud and fractious fret play are absent, replaced by dulcet plectral stippling and an abiding melodic sensitivity. Divested of volume and distortion, his lines retain their natural mutability and unpredictability, but it’s hard not to miss the maverick voice that helped make such ’80s albums as News for Lulu and Fulton Street Maul so special. Lovano’s clement tenor lines frequently trail smoky rasps, their edges smudged and notes gliding along in close timbral proximity to those of the guitarist. Motian is the least overtly modified by age, his supple, often-sidestepping beats and frequent cymbal fixations supplying deceptively resilient propulsion. The three have clearly mellowed, but not in the sense of becoming creatively flaccid or complacent. Their urbane music is an inspired fit with the signature ECM aesthetics of austerity and space.

The new program travels a typical translucent course with pieces almost uniformly brief and structured, more like dreamy tone poems than discretely defined compositions. Much like the soft focus snapshot that serves as cover image, roles and relationships regularly blur and the interplay usually unfolds in the service of manifesting moods rather than tracing strict trajectories. An air of impermanence pervades, with one player plying a pattern that the other two instantly adapt and respond to before gliding past. Motian’s familiar Middle Eastern-tinted motifs play parts in a couple tracks, but chamber and even New Age comparisons are even easier associations to draw as the three shape music that is inherently relaxing and low-key. Edges do arise, as on staccato “Onetwo” and a Lacyesque rendering of Monk’s “Light Blue,” but they are often swaddled in a cottony production casing. The narcotizing restraint in evidence is sometimes discouraging and some may find the trio’s sound too cloying. Still, others willing to adjust their expectations to the mellifluous peculiarities of the three players will probably find the acquiescence worthwhile. I’m still trying to decide definitively where I stand.

By Derek Taylor

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