(There are numerous obits out there you can find with a quick Google search – this one from The Guardian is pretty good)
Motian, who is my favorite drummer, possessed one of the most unique styles in jazz; so singular was his approach that his presence was always felt, even when performing as a sideman. Motian, who was performing and recording at a high level up until his death, has left an indelible mark on jazz: had his output been limited to his time with Bill Evans he would still be a major influence. Considering his work with Evans, Keith Jarrett, his long standing trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, his huge body of compositions and the variety of recent projects with artists such Chris Potter, Jason Moran, Lenny Grenadier and others – one must conclude that Motian was one of the major forces in jazz for just under the last 50 years. Or putting that another way: jazz has been around in the national consciousness for 11 decades. Motian’s career spanned 6 decades.
Beyond this blog post, there’s little I can do to honor Motian – I did not know him, nor did I meet him (although seeing his group at the Village Vanguard in ’06 was THE highlight of my jazz life). The best I can do to show my appreciation for the man and his music is offer my five favorite albums that feature Motian. In no particular order…..
Conception Vessel – His first solo album, on ECM from 1972. I just picked up a pristine LP copy at a local antique store for $4. It’s perfect – a mix of solo percussion, duets and quartet. Includes Jarrett.
I Have the Room Above Her – With Lovano and Frisell, on ECM from 2005. This record was my first exposure to Motian as a leader. I had heard the Evans trio discs, but I hadn’t heard anything like this album. I was very familiar with Lovano and Frisell at the time, but it was a Downbeat review that led me to buy the record. Perhaps one of my favorite recordings – in any genre.
Bill Evans: Portrait in Jazz – Classic. If I remember right, the blurb from the original Downbeat review called this album “the truth.” If the only song on the record was “Witchcraft” – that would be enough. A perfect example of the innovations the group made to the piano trio format.
Keith Jarrett: Death and the Flower – all of the American Quartet’s albums are good, and their four albums are just about the only Keith Jarrett I still listen to regularly (I love Fort Yawuh as well). The long title track, and the way it organically grows and evolves – completely natural and unforced.
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 1: On Broadway 4: Or the Paradox of Continuity – This is the group I saw at the Vanguard – featuring Potter, Grenadier, vocalist Rebecca Martin (Grenadier’s wife), and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi (if you think Jarrett moans at the piano a lot, then you haven’t heard Kikuchi, who makes Jarrett sound silent). Kikuchi and Martin split time as the “+1″ member of the trio.
Dave Holland Octet
Dare 2 Records DR2-004
If you’re like me you don’t buy or listen to Dave Holland’s albums for the writing or his bass solos (which to me all say the same thing and go on too long). It’s not that I think his writing or soloing are poor, they just doesn’t do much for me, just as Wayne Shorter’s compositions don’t turn me on. That being said, I generally devour Holland’s records for the incredible soloists in his band. Whether you like Holland’s writing and playing, or just the soloists, or both, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of his octet’s latest disc Pathways, which is taken from the band’s run at Birdland from January 7-11, 2009. And unlike some live records the sound, mixing and engineering are all top notch, resulting in a great sounding album.
To me Holland’s compositions and arrangements often run together due to several factors: the reliance on the same grooves that imply the time more than explicitly stating it, the thick textures and voicing, and generally the same tempi and mood. I don’t think I need to go into much detail about what the record sounds like, because it sounds like a Dave Holland record. Nuff said. But give him credit, he has a personal approach, sound and aesthetic that works great for him.
There is not a solo on Pathways that isn’t smoking hot. The band must have been killing it all week. Chris Potter and Antonio Hart are both favorites of mine, and they especially bring it on the album’s final cut “Shadow Dance,” which happens to close Holland’s 2002 big band record What Goes Around as well. Hart, who has a big, soulful, bluesy sound that occasionally growls, opens up the soloing. The track has a steady, forward moving tempo, and by laying back and blowing relaxed and bluesy lines Hart is able to create a tension between himself and the rhythm section that draws you in. Potter is all over his horn here, taking angular lines and developing them motivically, slowly becoming busier, faster, higher, occasionally adding a short, restrained scream.
To me one of the ways Gary Smulyan can be thought of as the bari sax version of LeBron James. Smulyan has an enormous, beefy sound and incredible agility on the large horn. If you saw LeBron in street clothes that covered his muscular physique and didn’t recognize him, perhaps you’d think that a person that large could never move fast. It’s just as surprising how fast Smulyan is on the bari, and instrument that can be very hard to get moving (trust me, I’m a bari player). But when you see LeBron in action, just like Smulyan, you are dazzled by a sheer athletic virtuosic display of speed, quickness, agility, creativity, power and grace. Smulyan hits you with such a performance right out of the gate on the disc’s opener “Pathways.”
If you couldn’t tell by this review I’m a bit saxophone biased, but that doesn’t mean that trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and trombonist Robin Eubanks aren’t on top of their game throughout either. I generally don’t care for the trombone as a solo instrument (and no, I can’t tell you why), but Eubanks has an individual approach and sound that always works, especially on “Ebb and Flow.” Sipiagin is a bad man, as he demonstrates on “Wind Dance,” which features virtuosic blowing that’s informed by Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. He also shows his lyrical and more subdued side on his flugelhorn solo on “Blue Jean.”
For whatever reason you may like Dave Holland’s albums, Pathways is one that will most certainly satisfy you. And for those who haven’t checked out Holland and his excellent stable of musicians whose configuration varies album by album, this record would be a great one to check out.
Tracks: Pathways; How’s Never; Sea of Marmara; Ebb and Flow; Blue Jean; Wind Dance; Shadow Dance.
Personnel: Antonio Hart, alto sax and flute; Chris Potter, tenor sax and soprano sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet and flugelhorn; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Steve Nelson, vibraphone and marimba; Dave Holland, bass; Nate Smith, drums.
Ok, after a month’s hiatus to move I’m back. After coming up for air after packing and unpacking, I come to find out that Joe Lovano is a bad, bad man. Of course I’ve known this for a while (although admittedly it took me quite a while before I got hip to him). My first real exposure came via his trio with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell on their ECM album I Have the Room Above Her (can’t wait for their next record) and I’ve been blown away by his playing ever since.
This summer Lovano, who I’m convinced can play anything with anybody at anytime, has garnred some serious praise from the jazz critic establishment. Lovano won the awards for best tenor player, best small group band (Us Five), and record of the year for Folk Art in this year’s Jazz Journalist Association awards, which were handed out in NYC on June 14. A full list of the awards can be found here.
Lovano faired even better in this year’s Downbeat Critics Poll, which appears in the August issue. He won jazz artist of the year convincingly over Sonny Rollins, narrowly beat out Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio for jazz group of the year, and edged out Rollins for tenor of the year (this was a two man race, with Chris Potter coming in a distant third). Although Lovano’s Folk Art did not win album of the year it did come in second to the Vijay Iyer Trio’s latest album Historicity, which is just sick. Surprisingly (at least to me because I voted for him) Lovano was nowhere to be found on the list of soprano winners. As opposed to tenor players who happen to pick up the soprano from time to time (one thing I cannot stand on soprano is poor intonation and that spread honky-goose sound in the low end, come on folks, if you want to play soprano do what my man Branford did and take lessons, because there’s nothing worse than crappy soprano playing) Lovano has a distinct approach on the soprano and exhibits control of the horn that in my opinion most soprano players lack. A great display of his soprano playing can be found on that live duo record he did with Hank Jones a few years back, which is maybe about the closest a jazz album can be to being perfect.
Just before I sat down to write this post I asked myself why I chose to focus on Lovano for this post. Sure, he cleaned up, but so did plenty of other deserving folks like Vijay Iyer, Darcy James Argue and lots of others. It then occured to me that while the jazz industry obviously recognizes Lovano, as do JazzTimes’ and Downbeats’ readers which is shown in their reader polls, most of the young (I’m talking high school and college age) saxophonists – or young jazz musicians of all instruments I know rarely say they are into Joe Lovano; some have never heard of him. There is a huge contingent of Chris Potter disciples out there, and deservedly so, but for the most part Lovano isn’t somebody young players I know talk about as being someone they listen to, would like to emulate, or transcribe. Maybe I just haven’t talked to the right ones. Anyway, despite Lovano’s haul this summer, the “Titan Among Us,” as Dan Ouellette calls him, hasn’t been as influential in the next generation of kids I know as his stature in the jazz press would suggest. I’m not sure why that is, although I’m sure there’s got to be some young kids who are diheard Lovano fans; I just haven’t met them yet.
Anyway, coming soon will be a quick run down of who I voted for in the Downbeat critics poll and how my votes stacked up to the other critics. For the most part I wasn’t too out there, although there were a few picks that I’m sure caused the associate editor to wonder if I was high.