|Down Beat (10/90) - 5 Stars - Excellent - "The music swings, growls and caresses. There is space, and there is traffic. This is refreshing jazz; after all, who needs a bass when the sky's the limit?...The familiar and unfamiliar meet in extraordinary displays of tradition turned on its head." Option - "has a breeziness and carefree quality"
Drummer Motian has assembled a heavyweight line-up for this album of standard ballads (originally released in 1989). Joe Lovano is the real star of the session, providing further evidence of his ascent to tenor man of the moment. Guitarist Bill Frisell provides the most stylistically distinctive contribution to the band, preventing it from becoming a run of the mill bebop album. Charlie Haden and Motian (as ever) provide impeccable, unobtrusive backing.
Although Motian is the leader of the session, he only really pushes himself into the foreground on the first track where he provides the intro and coda and takes the first solo. Lovano's solo on this fast tempo version of "Liza" is masterful bebop playing. He manages to pull off the trick of sounding speedy, muscular and really driving the band, but at the same time making it all sound effortless. Up next, Frisell takes a different approach, leaving more space and moving away from pure bebop language.
Haden drops out for a delicate but luscious rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", a real highlight of the album. Frisell's pedal steel style harmonic accompaniment creates an ideal backdrop for Lovano's thoughtful and lyrical ballad playing. He tastefully controls his attack with the volume pedal to fade in voicings which avoid the obvious chord changes. Frisell leaves Lovano all the space to waft through the rich harmonies with his light, fluffy tone; deep and rich in the lower register and beautifully fragile in the upper. Motian's input here is so sparse and restrained, he's barely there. Its exactly this sort of thoughtful, musical playing that his reputation is built on.
"What Is This Thing Called Love" opens in trio format with Frisell's oblique, understated interpretation of the melody and characteristically weird chords. Lovano enters for the first solo which once again showcases his silky fluency as he weaves long expressive lines through the harmony. Haden's singing bass takes the next chorus while unfortunately failing to find any worthwhile melodic interest. Lovano plays the head on the way out. It's the kind of ending that leaves you wanting more.
This is essentially an album for connoisseurs, probably too subtle to appeal to anyone but the hardcore jazz fanatic. Having said that, there's nothing threatening or raucous here that would offend anyone's sensibilities. Trouble is, I suspect, most people outside of the jazz cognoscenti would find the album's mood of autumnal introspection a tad dreary. However, it's the chemistry between Lovano's immersion in jazz language and Frisell's style (which finds more of its influences outside jazz) that make this album. It's great to have Paul Motian on Broadway, but it's Lovano's name that's in lights.