Paul Motian Band: Garden of Eden (2006)
If Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude had been put to music, it might have sounded like Garden of Eden. That novel has a feeling of timelessness, fecund vegetation, thick air, filtered sunlight, and a natural beauty that is almost frightening in its immediacy and intensity.
The history of this group goes back to the early '90s and Motian's Electric Bebop Band, whose first edition had Joshua Redman and Chris Potter on saxophones, with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Schoeppach on guitars. Holiday for Strings (Winter & Winter, 2002) had a very similar makeup, but with Pietro Tonolo and Chris Cheek on saxophones and Steve Cardenas and Ben Monder on guitars. The current record brings over Cheek, Cardenas, and Monder while adding Tony Malaby (sax) and Jakob Bro (guitar).
Holiday has more in common with Garden of Eden than just the players. The overall vibe and sound is very similar, only intensified by the third guitarist. The average track length on both records is around four minutes. The number of Motian compositions is about the same, as is the number contributed by band members. Finally, the "covers" are of standards or bop classics, but done in an unconventional way. It would be easy to say that this record is a return by Motian to an aesthetic he wished to expand.
The players are arranged from left to right: Cardenas, Malaby, Monder, Cheek, and Bro, with Motian seemingly everywhere and electric bassist Jerome Harris back in the mix. The single most important characteristic making up the 100 Years of Solitude sound is the fact that the guitars all play at the same time. When accompanying, they comp differently in separate ranges, producing a diaphanous wall of sound, especially on the original material. Malaby and Cheek tend to play lightly, so as to float in front of this wall.
There is hardly any soloing in the traditional sense. Rather, the players engage in a multi-sided conversation, pausing and listening to each other, commenting underneath the flow. Even when playing in unison, a looseness reigns when one player sounds out of synch or phase with the other. This languorousness is countered by the omnipresent Motian, who is a whirlwind of intensity, producing a cloud of cymbals and drums, but hardly any bass drum. This juxtaposition of floating and intensity is what keeps the fecund garden from degenerating into vacuity.
The original material is bracketed by two Mingus tunes in the beginning and one each by Monk and Charlie Parker at the end, and interrupted only by a Jerome Kern standard in the middle. The track order only adds to the feeling these pieces are one large, unrolling song; the melodies sound like variations of each other, even the compositions by Cheek and Cardenas, furthering the feeling of timelessness with no beginning and no end.
Put Garden of Eden on and let it transport you into a timeless, floating world. You just might not want to return to this mundane existence!
Track Listing: Pithecantrhropus Erectus; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Etude; Mesmer; Mumbo Jumbo; Desert Dream; Balata; Bill; Endless; Prelude 2 Narcissus; Garden of Eden; Manhattan Melodrama; Evidence; Cheryl.
Personnel: Paul Motian: drums; Chris Cheek: saxophone; Tony Malaby: saxophone; Jakob Bro: guitar; Ben Monder: guitar; Steve Cardenas: guitar; Jerome Harris: electric bass.