Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Paul Motian 1931 - 2011

(So somebody has to die before I'm inspired to write here again.  Oh well...)

I was looking at the excellent Destination Out website of jazz rarities (http://destination-out.com/) this afternoon when I noticed a mention of "Paul Motian appreciations".  That worried me because there is usually one reason in particular why people start posting appreciations of a particular artist. I checked a couple of other sites and my fears were confirmed. The great jazz drummer, Paul Motian, had passed away this morning.

Paul Motian R.I.P.

Motian was special among the many jazz drummers of the last fifty years.  Whereas a lot chose to follow the multi-directional power drumming route of the likes of Elvin Jones and Sunny Murray,  Motian went the other way playing with subtlety and sparseness and creating a velvety carpet of accents and colors for his bandmates to work with. He played with an insane number of great musicians, Lennie Tristano, Tony Scott, George Russell, Bill Evans in his most famous trio, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Paul Bley, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, John Abercrombie, Jason Moran, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Jim Pepper and Lee Konitz just to name a few.  In looking over a couple of his credit listings today I was reminded that he was also the drummer for Carla Bley's epic recording, Escalator Over The Hill, and that he had played with Marilyn Crispell on a bunch of her ECM CDs. You could play the Six Degrees game with Motian and link him to most of the great jazz players of modern times.

Like Count Basie in his later years, Motian eventually reduced his art to its essence, never hitting a lot of notes but always hitting the right ones and letting the music breathe. He could throw down a 4/4 rhythm with the best of them, often in his Electric Bebop Band when he played with younger musicians, but it was always the abstract interplay with others that got me.  Right now I'm listening to one of his many trio recordings with Lovano and Frisell and the rustling decorations and lazy feathering he does around the sax and guitar is simply amazing. He sounds like a free falling ballet dancer.

This clip is from a 1995 performance at the Umbria Jazz Festival where Motian does his thing expertly with a heavyweight group consisting of Lovano, Frisell, Konitz and Marc Johnson. Nobody could float and drive simultaneously like this man.

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