Joe Lovano’s first album as a leader on ECM introduces a new trio. Marilyn Crispell is a pianist from the jazz avant-garde. Her background is unusual for a Lovano collaborator. Carmen Castaldi is a drummer from the Paul Motian school of minimalism. The first track, “One Time In,” opens with Lovano on gongs. You know the haunting sound from your dreams. A nocturnal atmosphere descends. Lovano’s first tenor saxophone notes are soft and measured, adjectives not often applied to his music.
Such rapt inner focus, such quietude, has long been associated with the ECM aesthetic. Whether producer Manfred Eicher influenced the atmosphere of Trio Tapestry or whether Lovano found the right label for his new music is perhaps not important. In press notes Lovano says that his 11 new compositions “draw upon twelve-tone processes.” On pieces like “Seeds of Change,” “Tarassa” and “Sparkle Lights,” tone rows are starting points from which Lovano flows directly into emotion. He is known for his power and his wealth of ideas. But here, in this spare context, he deals with fewer ideas and therefore concentrates on the essential ones. It is fascinating to hear him develop diverse melodies from the stepping stones of his tunes. In this bare trio, the beauty of his musical logic is laid bare. The reverberations of his gongs add mystery and also suggest key centers for improvisation.
Crispell is stunning on this album. What she freely derives from the “twelve-tone process” of each song is always a fresh act of the imagination, and always finds arcane lyricism. She has “Piano/Drum Episode” almost to herself. In the long silences between her notes, Castaldi’s bass drum murmurs faintly, like distant thunder.
Trio Tapestry is a unique addition to Joe Lovano’s large, important body of recorded work.