Recorded in 1995 and originally released on Stefan Winter's JMT label, the Paul Motian Trio's At the Village Vanguard triangulated the drummer with two old mates who had played with him on his fine Story of Maryam album for Soul Note -- tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell. The album begins deceptively enough with the balladic nugget "You Took The Words Right Out of My Heart," with Motian playing his slippery, shimmering dance on the cymbals and Frisell playing harmonically across Lovano's melody line. But that's where the real sentimentalism ends. As "Abacus" kicks off, vanguard jazz and hard bop come right to the fore and all three players engage one another at a heightened yet relaxed level, freely moving into dissonance and back. Frisell just goes off the deep end in his solo. "Folk Song for Rosie," brings it all back to earth with Lovano blowing slow and deliberate, finding the melody and moving from it as Frisell fills in each move with chords and harmonic figures and Motian covers the rest of the bases. The marching swing of "The Owl of Cranston," reveals the humor and playfulness at this bands heart, though they never stop reaching for the limit. Motian's "Circle Dance," ends the set. It is a fine interpretation with plenty of counterpoint and rhythmic playing from all three members and Lovano's digging into both the Latin and blues fake books for his lyric and solo is inspiring. This is a prime Motian date, not to be missed this time around.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek