White drummer Paul Motian (1931), who had cut his teeth with the likes
of Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano,
had an intense career, first pioneering a more proactive role for the drums with
Bill Evans (1959-61), and then abstracting the drums to match the soundscape
with Paul Bley (1963-64) and drumming in an almost "melodic" way with Keith Jarrett (1967-76). All his "bosses" were pianists, a fact that had an impact on
his musical mindset.
The revelation of his debut album, Conception Vessel (november 1972), was, in
fact, Motian as a composer: Georgian Bay and Rebica
for a trio of Motian, bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Sam Brown,
Conception Vessel, a duet with Keith Jarrett,
and Inspiration from a Vietnamese Lullaby for a quartet with Haden, violinist Leroy Jenkins and flutist Becky Friend,
were exceptional open post-bop structures that radiated ideas in all directions.
Sod House, on Tribute (may 1974), added another format: a quintet with two guitars, bass (Haden) and alto sax (Charles Ward).
After he finished his tenure with Jarrett, Motian unleashed
his compositional skills in the realm of sophisticated chamber jazz.
This phase was begun by
two trio albums with saxophonist Charles Brackeen and a bassist:
Dance (september 1977), that contained the relatively short and lively
Waltz Song, Asia and Lullaby, and
Le Voyage (march 1979), that contained the longer and more pensive
Folk Song For Rosie and Le Voyage.
A breakthrough for Motian's research on sound was represented by Psalm (december 1981), performed by a piano-less quintet featuring saxophonists Joe Lovano and Billy Drewes, bassist Ed Schuller and guitarist Bill Frisell that Motian conducted through graceful and soulful excursions such as Second Hand, Fantasm and Yahllah. Part of the success was due to the exuberant talents of Frisell and Lovano. The two yougsters were, again, the main feature of The Story Of Maryam (july 1983), with Jim Pepper replacing Drewes, an album with even more baroque pieces such as 9 X 9 and The Owl of Cranston,
and of Jack Of Clubs (march 1984), with Cathedral Song.
This pianoless quintet broke up after Misterioso (july 1986), ostensibly a Monk tribute but also including Motian's lyrical Dance.
Motian's melodic flair was now irrepressible, and it erupted with the trio
albums that followed, both because Motian was more fully in control of his
music and because limiting the group to the interplay between Frisell's guitar
(the ebullient persona)
and Lovano's saxophone (the subtle persona) actually optimized the pathos of his glossy chamber jazz.
Fiasco and India, on the trio's debut album,
It Should've Happened A Long Time Ago (july 1984),
were emblematic of the style that exerted a huge influence on fusion jazz
of the era.
One Time Out (september 1987) followed that paradigm, but subsequent releases
wasted the trio (soon augmented with Haden on bass) in shallow
collections of pop and jazz covers.
Ditto for the Electric Bebop Band, formed in 1992 to deliver commercial
interpretations of jazz classics.
Motian's trio occasionally returned to form, for example on
Trioism (june 1993), containing It Should've Happened A Long Time Ago,
and I Have the Room Above Her (april 2004), containing
Osmosis Part 1, Harmony and One In Three.
No matter how professional, their music was pure routine.
Continuing his paranoia for the piano, Motian inaugurated a new piano-less
ensemble on Garden of Eden (november 2004), featuring
two saxophonists, three electric guitarists, an electric bassist,
but the marketing strategy was still the same as the various Electric Bebop Bands.
Lost In A Dream (february 2009) featured the trio of Paul Motian (drums), Chris
Potter (tenor sax) and Jason Moran (piano).
The Windmills Of Your Mind (september 2010) featured a quartet of guitarist Bill Frisell, vocalist Petra Haden and bassist Thomas Morgan.
Alexandra Grimal (tenor and soprano saxes), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Gary Peacock (bass), and drummer Paul Motian recorded Owls Talk (december 2009).
Creative Music Studio's triple-disc Archive Selections Volume 1 & 2 (Planet Arts) documents sessions by Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Kalaparusha, Frederic Rzewski, Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, Don Cherry, Collin Walcott, Nana Vasconcelos, Gerry Hemingway, etc.
Paul Motian died in december 2011 at 80
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