Joe Lovano and Trio Tapestry – Garden of Expression
(ECM 7736190. CD review by John Bungey)
If you’re a fan of the vinyl revival then don’t buy this album. Well do, just not on vinyl. With its pianissimos and pauses, this delicate trio music requires the silent backdrop that digital provides. So, yes, let’s hear it for the uncool compact disc. The “atmospheric” pops, clicks and surface noise of a well-loved long-player will only distract from the ethereal tales being told on Garden of Expression. And don’t worry about the bass not having “the warmness of vinyl”, there is no bassist here.
Joe Lovano, once the soul of hard bop, has explored more ethereal territories lately. Part of his talent is how well he fits into whatever context he chooses. This is the second album by the saxophonist and his Trio Tapestry, with pianist Marilyn Crispell and Carmen Castaldi on drums – three musicians weaving threads into a vivid musical sound picture, if you will. The approach builds on their 2019 debut with Lovano is at his most intimate – breathy, buttery, measured. Crispell’s quietly intense solos and counter melodies reflect her background in classical and the avant-garde. Castaldi is a colourist interested in tone and timbre, commenting on the music or shepherding it in new directions. With plenty echoes of Lovano’s old bandmate Paul Motian, Castaldi does nothing as obvious as tap out the beat.
These eight pieces are credited to Lovano but it’s hard to say where composition ends and improvisation starts. Lovano’s themes are often oblique and impressionistic with Crispell responding in restrained but free-ish fashion over shimmering cymbals or gentle snare. The results can be quite beautiful. A bass player, however subtly deployed, would weigh down sounds that seem to float in mid-air.
These are musicians listening intently to one another – where their silence is as important as their statements. And to get the most out of Garden of Expression you too will have to listen intently. This is not a record to do the washing-up by.
The album’s finale is a ten-minute epic that opens with Lovano gently tapping a gallery of gongs before music emerges from pure sound. Lovano turns to his soprano saxophone, which sighs and keens as Crispell explores a quiet, insistent motif before a fade-out of chiming gongs. The piece is (unsurprisingly) called Zen Like.
Fifty years into his career, Lovano is enjoying a purple patch. As well as the Trio Tapestry debut in 2019 there was a fine live album, Roma, with Enrico Rava. Last year brought an inspired collaboration with Marcin Wasilewski’s trio in Arctic Riff. Like those albums, Garden of Expression is issued by ECM. The German label is, of course, renowned as the home of reflective tone poetry. Even so, within that milieu, Trio Tapestry conjure a meditative sound world that’s all their own.