(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.
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.