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Music Review: Paul Motian – Lost In A Dream

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So many jazz albums have been recorded live at The Village Vanguard in New York that the venue itself has become as famous as many of the artists themselves. Among the 100-plus albums from the Greenwich Village landmark include classics by Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, and John Coltrane.

The trio of Paul Motian (drums), Jason Moran (piano), and Chris Potter (tenor saxophone) spent a week-long residency there in February 2009. Afterwards, Motian and producer/ ECM label head Manfred Eicher sifted through the tapes to choose the 10 tracks that constitute Lost In A Dream.

The album is comprised of exclusively Motian-penned tunes, yet one would hardly know it based on the performances. The disc primarily consists of ballad material. Why the set was chosen this way is open to interpretation, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it was to highlight the individual musicians’ talents. A flubbed note or solo that goes nowhere is easily overlooked on a high-energy piece with a large band. But in the small confines of a trio playing ballads, every statement becomes significant.

Although the contemporary New York Times review of the concerts mentions the piano work of Jason Moran: “The playing of Mr. Moran had a strong pull in the music” I disagree. Moran’s playing is outstanding, but it is the tenor sax of Chris Potter that I notice the most.

“Blue Midnight” very prominently features Potter. John Coltrane may always be remembered for the incredibly adventurous music he was making in his final years. One of my most cherished Coltrane LPs though is Ballads. For the most part, he plays it straight, but there are a few moments when he briefly just lets fly. They remind you in no uncertain terms of who you are listening to. The highest praise I can give Potter is that there are times during “Blue Midnight” that he reminds me of what Coltrane accomplished on that album.

This is not to diminish the contribution of Jason Moran in any way. His solo in the album’s opening track “Mode VI” is a wonder. And he tops himself on the very next cut, “Casino.” It brings to mind the brilliance of Bill Evans on the Miles Davis masterpiece Kind Of Blue. In particular, the way Evans’ piano defines “Flamenco Sketches.”

Paul Motian actually began his career with a brief spell as the drummer behind Thelonious Monk. While “Drum Music” is a showcase for his phenomenal drumming, it is also the closest this album comes to the type of material Monk was so famous for. Very, very hard bop and a whole lot of fun. “Abacus” is up next, and provides another opportunity to highlight the man’s talent behind the kit. Both tracks hail from Motian’s classic Le Voyage (1979).

Lost In A Dream closes with “Cathedral Song,” which completes something of a perfect circle. All three musicians shine on this beautiful ballad, sending the audience home very obviously satisfied. It makes you feel that you have just witnessed a world-class jazz trio. Which is exactly what they are.

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