“Rare Beauty,” a standout track from Joe Lovano’s new album Trio Tapestry, starts with a deep, resonant tom-tom rumble from drummer Carmen Castaldi. Lovano’s tenor saxophone and Marilyn Crispell’s piano enter with a snaking, up-and-down line, which Castaldi accompanies and answers. The way the instruments swirl together, intuitively tracing out the chant-like theme without settling into a steady rhythm, instantly recalls a sound pioneered by the late drummer-composer Paul Motian.
From the early Eighties on, Joe Lovano’s saxophone presence, magisterial yet poignant, was a key part of that sound. The trio Motian led with Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell would become legendary for its spare, impressionistic approach, and the music on Trio Tapestry — the 66-year-old saxophonist’s first album as a leader for eminent jazz/classical label ECM, which released a series of outstanding Motian/Frisell/Lovano full-lengths from 1985 through 2006 — seems to draw inspiration from that earlier band. (The title of invocation-like album opener “One Time In” subtly nods to a 1989 release by the trio.)
After the opening theme of “Rare Beauty,” Crispell offers a lovely, billowing improvisation on the melody, as Castaldi accompanies her with subtle patterns and colors on his ride cymbal. Their duo gives way to an equally poetic saxophone feature that strips down to a ghostly swing-feel duo between Lovano and Castaldi. Even as the energy picks up, a feeling of space and stillness prevails. Crispell re-enters and, without returning to the opening statement, the three bring the piece to a gradual close.
Overall, “Rare Beauty” is a piece that, like those earlier Motian recordings, defies the idea that jazz needs to be either “free” or “traditional,” “in” or “out.” As with Trio Tapestry as a whole, it’s both enchantingly melodic and alluringly mysterious.