Motian Studies

December 26, 2011 at 4:34 pm Leave a comment

Paul Motian’s recent passing got me examining some of the albums I’ve bought over the years that happen to include him.

A couple of these purchases came in the wake of discovering Tim Berne’s Bloodcount on the JMT label. I started snapping up all things JMT — and the label was already defunct, which perversely added to the fun. Anyway, it turns out Motian showed up on a lot of those albums. (Stefan Winter has since revived the entire catalog on Winter & Winter — where you’ll also find a PDF-formatted obit for Motian, cataloging his JMT output.)

Tethered Moon — s/t (JMT, 1995) ….. This one was hard for me at first. On the slow tracks, the music just seemed to sit there. Years later I would reconsider, having gotten more accustomed to less “busy” styles of music.  It’s a Kurt Weill collection, but the songs don’t have the Weill-like tension and drama. Sometimes, the band comes across as a regular piano trio, with Masabumi Kikuchi showing some Keith Jarrett-like leanings, down to the funny-voiced singing alongside his piano lines. But for some patches, this album becomes a celebration of inner stillness, colored by Motian’s delicious brushwork and the rich, resonating wood of Peacock’s bass.

Wolfgang Muthspiel — Perspective (Verve, 1996) ….. The opening “Gang of 5” held me spellbound on first listen. It’s expansive and open-aired, a landscape built on Motian playing a groove without a steady beat. He’s busily riding the cymbals and the snare in a very jazz-like way, but if you try to “spell” the beat in your head, you’ll be foiled. Above this, Muthspiel spins weeping lines on violin and Marc Johnson follows with mournful bowed bass. Eventually, Muthspiel switches to electric guitar for some free soloing over Motian’s non-groove.

On “No You Hang Up First,” you get to hear Motian assigned to play a straight 2/4 beat. Of course, it doesn’t stay that way, and the composition includes a breakdown passage where Motian gets to open up the rhythm.

My recollection is that I bought Perspective on a whim in Europe. It sure looks like a JMT release, but the label says just “Verve” — which did acquire JMT and printed its catalog for a sort time — and I can’t find Muthspiel’s name in the Winter & Winter reissue series.

Paul Motian and The Electric Bebop Band — Reincarnation of a Love Bird (JMT, 1994) ….. Hey, you get to hear Motian play regular swing! Sort of. The slower tracks like Monk’s “Ask Me How” get a swing infused with Motian’s airy treatment, those light, light taps on the cymbals. He’s in more straightahead mode on  some faster ones like Miles’ “Half-Nelson,” and you get to hear a nifty bebop solo from him on “Be-Bop.” I get the feeling this band started as Motian’s way of cutting loose a little bit, in a be-bop sense. (Ironically, by “cutting loose” I actually mean “giving in to jazz’s normal constraints.”) This album used a two-sax, two-guitar format for an exciting, busy sound in some places; Don Alias’ percussion sounds nice but seems like a bit much over Motian’s drumming, sometimes.

This one’s a JMT issue that you can’t get on Winter & Winter; it’s sold out!

Keith Jarrett ….. you know what, I’m not gonna call out a title. That whole mid-’70s period, with Dewey Redman (sax), Charlie Haden (bass), and Motian — those were glorious years. I had to pillage the used bins for Backhand, Bop-Be, El Juicio, and Mysteries, but you can find them all on CD now, thankfully. (Or online; I’m linking to eMusic there, but plenty of other outlets have them.) I think each album includes one “weird” track, one that departs from Jarrett’s snappy-yet-open jazz and goes into complete experimental strangeness, often in a slow, pensive mood. And then there’s The Survivors’ Suite, which I’ve called out previously. I’ve thought about these more than actually listening to them in the past couple weeks, so maybe they shouldn’t count here.

Paul Motian — Conception Vessel (ECM, 1973) ….. I hadn’t heard this one before, though I was aware of it (and other Motian ’70s gems) in the KZSU vinyl library. I’d mentioned it in discussing Motian’s composing, in my review of Joel Harrison’s tribute album. It’s Motian’s first album as a leader, and he tests the waters in so many areas. Sam Brown’s guitar plays rough-and-tumble on “Rebica” but still foreshadows the drifting role Bill Frisell would play for Motian later. The title track is a duet with Jarrett, both players exploring loosely connected territories with a spacious ferocity. “Inspiration from a Vietnamese Lullabye” puts Leroy Jenkins’ violin alongside Becky Friends’ flute in a downright vicious, emotional jam.

Most of these tracks have a younger Motian playing powerfully, with lots of cymbals, still resonating with the heat of the ’60s. He’s certainly not adhering to timekeeping, but neither is the sound dominated by his magician’s subtlety with blank spaces. I like the results a lot.

Of course, Motian’s catalog has a lot more to it. These are just the things I’d grabbed off the shelf, so to speak.

Entry filed under: blather. Tags: , , , .

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