World of Jazz 1st December 2011 – A Tribute to Paul Motian

One of the most subtle drummers in jazz, a man who played his kit as a melody instrument and released jazz drummers from the responsibility of keeping time for the rest of the band,  Paul Motian was one of the great improvisers. He was also a consummate bandleader who delivered a wide range of styles across a variety of line-ups. He was born Stephen Paul Motian in Philadelphia on March 25, 1931, growing-up  in Providence, Rhode Island, and starting to  play the drums at the tender  age of 12.

He moved to New York in 1955 and played with some of the jazz greats — including Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Coleman Hawkins,Tony Scott, and George Russell — before making his mark on the scene in his role with Bill Evans’ most famous trio (with bassist Scott LaFaro), delivering  career defining moments as shown by the two tracks that  are played second  and close this show – with classic gigs at the Village Vanguard in New York.

In 1963, Motian left Evans’ group to join up with Paul Bley for a short period before beginning  a long stint  with Keith Jarrett in 1966, appearing with the pianist’s American-based quartet through until 1977. At this time  Motian also played  for artists like Mose Allison, Charles Lloyd, Carla Bley, and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Ensemble, and turned down the chance to be John Coltrane’s second drummer.

In 1972, Motian recorded his first session as a leader for ECM.  He formed a regular working group in 1977 (which featured tenor Joe Lovano) and recorded several more dates for ECM, then revamped the ensemble to include guitarist Bill Frisell in 1980. Further recordings for ECM and Soul Note followed, and in 1988 Motian moved to JMT, where he produced a series of albums which remain some of the most exciting in modern jazz. During the ’90s, he also led an ensemble called the Electric Bebop Band that teamed twin guitars with twin horns to create unique reworking of bop classics. In 1998, Motian signed with the Winter & Winter label and delivered another series of great albums with  various line-ups.

In 2005 Motian moved back to the ECM label, releasing more  albums all varying the line-ups and the style of music. And from then until now he released albums both on ECM and Winter & Winter with a continuous revisiting of his work with Trio 2000, The Electric Be-Bop Band and the trio with Lovano and Frisell.

He was a hugely influential drummer, bandleader, composer, and a must see live performer. Sadly Motian recently died  on November 22, 2011 in New York City. He was 80 years old.

This show aims to capture at least some of his great work.

The tracks I am playing are

  • Paul Motian – Intro – Windmills of Your Mind (2011) – Paul Motian’s 80th birthday album with  Bill Frisell on guitar and Thomas Morgan on bass for the most part takes traditional tunes and turns them inside out with Petra Haden adding vocals – however this opening track is an instrumental and demonstrates that Paul – even towards the end of his life was still stretching the boundaries.
  • Bill Evans – My Foolish Heart – The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings 1961 (2005) – The music recorded by the Bill Evans Trio on June 25, 1961, is legendary. The influential Evans delivers a series of  jazz masterpieces with bassist Scott LaFaro  and drummer Motian. The interplay between the three players is stunning.
  • Paul Motian – Last Night When Were Young – On Broadway Volume 1 (1988) – The quartet of  Joe Lovano,  Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden and Motian play show tunes from the 1930s and 40s, reinventing them in a fascinating  fashion. The high point  is the playing of  Frisell, whose versatility and  original sounds make this a unique set.
  • Paul Motian Trio – Monica’s Garden – Trio I Sm (1993) – Motian has been applauded  by critics for his subtle syncopation and unique sense of time. On this 1993 album, Motian’s drumming magic is complemented by the left-field guitar styling of Bill Frisell and the signature sound  of saxmen Joe Lovano and Dewey Redman.
  • Charlie Haden – Blues in Motian – The Montreal Tapes with Geri Allen and Paul Motian  (1989) – the third of eight CD releases from Haden’s tribute concerts at the Montreal Jazz Festival.  Haden and Motian worked together in the Keith Jarrett Trio in the 60s and 70s and have a unique understanding of each others playing. Geri Allen also raises the bar with her playing  on this great live set.
  • Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band- Look to the Black Wall – Holiday for Strings  (2002)- the third iteration of the EBBB proved to be the more adventurous with the great dual guitar line-up on Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas adding a unique sound,  and the twin horns of Pietro Tonolo and Chris Cheek adding an ambient edge. One of Motian’s greatest albums.
  • Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band – Milestone – Flight of the Blue Jay (1998) – the second iteration of the EBBB only features Chris Cheek from line-up number three.  Chris Potter is the other tenor player, the guitarists are Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Schoeppach, and Steve Swallow covers the bass duties. This is a more straight ahead be-bop recording showing the initial intent of the EBBB.
  • Enrico Pieranunzi with Paul  Motian – Heart of A Child – Doorways (2004) – primarily a duo album between Motian and the italian master pianist but they are joined by the tenor of Chris Potter for this track.
  • Paul Motian – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat – Garden of Eden (2006) – This set was  recorded in 2004, but not released until 2006 when Motian turned 75. The band mimics the EBBB.  The album focuses on bebop classics with  three guitarists — Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, and Jakob Bro — two saxophonists — Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby — and  bassist Jerome Harris accompanying Motian.
  • Paul Motian – Time Remembered – Bill Evans (1990) – Motian’s association with Bill Evans made him the right person to record an Evans tribute album, which happens to be a perfect fit with his run of  jazz repertory releases in the 1990s. However this is jazz repertory re-invented as Motian, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist Bill Frisell, and bassist Marc Johnson deliver amazing reworkings of Evans’ tunes.
  • Bill Evans – Waltz for Debby – The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings 1961 (2005)
To listen to the show – click on the link below