Restrained and tight and a lovely reminder of what can be done with minimal resources

ECM 2777 / 487 7746

Joe Lovano (Tenor Saxophone, Tarogato, Gongs); Marilyn Crispell (Piano); Carmen Castaldi (Drums)

Recorded May 2022

This relatively brief (39 minutes) outing from Lovano’s Trio Tapestry reunites Lovano with Marilyn Crispell’s transparent, considered piano, and Carmen Castaldi’s austere percussion for the third time. I’m in two minds about it. It’s certainly not dinner jazz – this kind of quiet intensity surpasses anything that might be considered easy listening. But I’m still not sure where it’s going.

Some of the pieces (All Twelve, Grace Notes and the Power of Three) have the feeling of technical exercises, with the musicians seeming to be playing with dodecaphonic atonality, arbitrary note combinations, or the ways in which two kinds of percussion (drums and piano) can meld to provide a ground for a Lovano solo. Others – the ones I like more, start to swing a bit more…

In more detail, you get eight tracks of varying length – starting with All Twelve. Here Crispell’s diaphanous, open piano states a 12-note theme that is then embellished by Castaldi’s almost airy percussion. Lovano picks up the twelve notes in a subtle counterpoint and eventually hands the batton back to Castaldi. It’s engaging but seems to pose a question that the following tracks don’t necessarily answer.

It’s followed by Grace Notes – the longest track. It’s its own thing – though there are echoes of Charles Lloyd (think Notes from Big Sur) and the opening gong / cymbal – passage sets a calm, meditative mood rewards listening to on good headphones – it’s a beautiful resonant sound. Again, the piano and percussion lay out a soundscape over which sax travels. And the grace notes? They certainly aren’t akin to the decoration you’d find in baroque music – maybe they’re notes which bring grace, but then are we getting a bit mystic? The gong that finishes the tune seems to take us in that direction.

The mood changes with Le Petit Opportun. In this homage to the much loved eponymous Paris jazz club, Lovano shifts to a melancholic but subtly tuneful mode. The beautifully phrased sax melody is perfectly complemented by Crispel and Castaldi, and I would have happily listened to it for longer than its 3 minutes. However, as it’s followed by a real treat, I have no complaints.

Our Daily Bread is a great reflective ballad – reprising a song Lovano played back in 2013 with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. It’s a track that allows all the musicians to shine and offers a perfect opportunity for us to appreciate Crispell’s lyrical capacity in her extended solo. This middle section concludes with One for Charlie, a lovely tribute to Lovano’s late friend and fellow band member, Charlie Haden. It’s a powerful, elegaic piece which some how reminded me of Charlie Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat – a favourite of the Paul Motian band Haden and Lovano played in.

The final section of the album has three tracks. The Power Of Three is more abstract – though it’s not clear if it’s a meditation on the potential of an apparently arbitrary three note combination, or to the potential of three musicians who have worked with one another for many a year.

Rhythm Spirit, the next track, starts with a free, open solo passage from Lovano that segues into a dance-like duet between Lovano and Castaldi. It’s restrained and tight and a lovely reminder of what can be done with minimal resources – and a lot of musical talent. Crystal Ball closes the album with all three musicians circling around a shared theme – though I’m not really sure to what end. As with All Twelve and Power of Three it seems to be saying quite a lot about a relatively small musical content.

To conclude. There’s much that I like in this album – particularly the tracks in the middle section, but I am not convinced that the project coheres into a satisfactory whole – and, even after four or five hearings, I’m still not sure where this elegant, beautifully played set is trying to go.

Reviewed by Chris Tribble