A piano keyboard is laid out as formally as a Government House dining table. It’s up to the pianist to mess up the placement of cutlery and glassware, spill some wine and knock over a candle or two. For decades improviser Marilyn Crispell has displayed an exceptional grasp of how to take this most concrete of musical instruments and make it more abstract. The start and end points of her lines disguise the music’s pulse, just as her melodies disguise the prevailing harmonies. Yet the aesthetics in which she deals are those of dreamy impressionism rather than unruly aural confrontation, and when not impressionistic, her artistry can conjure up the bright, semi-figurative squiggles of Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miro, but with smudged backgrounds and even more enigma.

This third exquisitely-recorded offering from Trio Tapestry, led by saxophonist/composer Joe Lovano, with Crispell and drummer/percussionist Carmen Castaldi, exudes otherworldliness from the outset. It conveys something of the same deep mystery that the late drummer Paul Motian’s trio with Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell imparted: a sense of the meaning not just being carried in the notes, but in the shadows between them, so more than just the players’ emotions are being exposed. Perhaps their very souls.

Top photo: Caterina Di Perri.

Lovano is at his peak here. There’s no trace of the opaqueness or virtuosic glibness that could occasionally dilute his never-in-doubt mastery or creativity. Listen to his keening entry on tarogato (a Hungarian reed instrument) on Grace Notes, which, in its immediacy and intensity, carries echoes of John Surman’s most searing work on soprano saxophone. This is playing to expunge all extraneous thoughts and engender total immersion, with every nuance of timbre and dynamics thickening the impact and reinforcing the truth.

An appealing languidness has often defined Lovano’s gentler tenor saxophone playing, which, at its best – as here in a duet with Crispell called Le Petit Opportun – is shrouded in ambiguities to match the pianist’s own playing. By contrast the title track has a more epic feel, without a hint of being overbaked. The piano and drums – with Castaldi swapping from mallets to brushes to sticks – create waves of sound, over which Lovano’s tenor is at its most majestic.

The saxophonist was used to working without a bass in Motian’s band, and the bass-less format suits Crispell, too, freeing her harmonically, while increasing the open space that lets the oneiric lines she sculpts appear in sharper relief. Castaldi is certainly not one to clutter that space, dancing lightly around the other instruments as he simultaneously deepens the shadows and lifts the buoyancy.

Lovano has dedicated the album to the great bassist Charlie Haden, with One for Charlie being a solo tenor piece that’s almost prayer-like in its reverence. This serves as a prelude for The Power of Three, on which Castaldi shows how little is required to make truly profound music, a feat he repeats on the tenor/drums duet Rhythm Spirit, gradually building the album’s most robust groove from the merest smattering of notes. Yet it’s a groove that somehow remains innocent rather than knowing, Castaldi having reached the high plateau that Motian first ascended, where all the decades of acquiring facility are forsaken in favour of a return to a childlike delight in simplicity. Crispell re-joins them for Crystal Ball, one of several pieces that are so aligned with the strengths of expression of each member that they sound like three-way spontaneous compositions. An album to be treasured.