In Tokio

Paul Motian

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In Tokio Review

by Alex Henderson

Some improvisers prefer a comfort-zone approach to jazz; in other words, they find a style of jazz they're comfortable with and stick to it -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Scott Hamilton's comfort zone, for example, is a swing-to-bop style that recalls the mid-'40s. The tenor saxman has never been groundbreaking or innovative, but he's undeniably superb at what he does. While the comfort-zone approach works well for a traditionalist like Hamilton, drummer Paul Motian is impressive in a very different way -- he's the sort of thrill-seeker who enjoys the challenge of hurling himself into a variety of musical situations. Recorded in Tokyo, Japan in 1991, Paul Motian in Tokio finds Motian leading a trio that boasts Bill Frisell on electric guitar and Joe Lovano on tenor sax; piano or keyboards and bass are absent, but neither are missed. In Tokio isn't among Motian's essential recordings, although it's a decent album that draws on influences ranging from Keith Jarrett and the ECM Records catalog to Ornette Coleman. In fact, one of the tunes is "Kathelin Gray," which Coleman and Pat Metheny wrote for their Song X collaboration in 1985. But most of the material was written by Motian himself and easily lends itself to an inside/outside approach. Although cerebral, abstract and avant-garde, In Tokio is far from an exercise in atonality -- and it certainly isn't harsh or confrontational in the way that a free jazz firebrand like Charles Gayle is harsh and confrontational. Actually, the songs tend to have a floating quality, and Motian's trio demonstrates that outside playing can be reflective rather than in-your-face. Again, In Tokio isn't a five-star masterpiece, but it's a likable document of Motian's association with Frisell and Lovano.

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