The trio of Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell on this recording is the same trio on I Have the Room Above Her on ECM put out early in 2005. It is merely a coincidence that the re-mastering of the Village Vanguard session has been unveiled in new form in close proximity to the ECM recording.
The VV recording manifests the true edginess of the group. The music is surprisingly soothing. Lovano, to my mind, has never sounded better. The blustery characteristic of his playing takes a back seat to his interest in breaking down mainstream barriers. Frisell is his true electronics-and-guitar self, demonstrating that he is totally cool with any direction in which he can go. Motian is stylistically restrained. But, without reservation, he subtly drives the threesome through interlaced avenues of counterpoint and disconnectedness. He charts an undercurrent of a rhythmic combination of cymbal and snare that is often off beat and starkly abstract. Lovano and Frisell construct their own rhythm lines on the ever-present surface Motian rolls out.
On the tenor, Lovano actually explores some split tones, finds some both high and low extremes and, in that discovery, renders some wonderful lines. Frisell goes unmatched in his playful picking of the guitar strings. He rides to the top a couple of times, but mostly forms an unyielding partnership with Lovano.
The tunes that prevail are beautifully performed. They are fresh because the main lines are surrounded by expansive applications of the instruments. The players are not fixated on the formalism of unwinding melodies. This is the reason that the tendency of Lovano and Frisell to separate has an engaging rather than a crumbling effect. And when the two do come together, it is many times in harmony.
Motian will not and cannot let Lovano and Frisell disintegrate. Out of eight compositions, seven are original Motian. The last of the eight, "Circle Dance," speaks happiness and is stunning.
The digital re-masters of past recordings are welcome entities especially if they revivify the best of the music. This is a perfect example.