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Paul Motian: There's a Million Songs Out There

By Published: November 22, 2011
AAJ: "Prelude 2 Narcissus is a great one. It's all built around that mostly descending melody, introduced by Monder before the horns take it. I really like the horn unison parts on this piece; they're very weightless.

PM: When I wrote that, it sort of reminded me of something else I had written, which was "Prelude, which I recorded on Dance [ECM, 1978]. This kind of reminded of that, and that's why I called this "Prelude 2. It's a little bit different from the original "Prelude I did. This is just another song that came out of the piano and my fingers and my head [laughing]. It almost sounds like an intro to the next piece ["Garden of Eden ].

AAJ: "Garden of Eden is just as mysterious as "Prelude 2 Narcissus. There's a huge contrast here between your drums which seem so adamant, and its warbling unison guitar line.

PM: Yeah, when we recorded that, I didn't have any idea what I was going to do, and I just came up with that rhythm. Another accident.

AAJ: How often does that happen—where you don't really have a notion about what you're going to play?

PM: Pretty often. A lot of times when we're playing, I don't really have any idea what I'm going to do. I'm going by what I'm feeling and what I'm hearing. Sounds turn me on. What I'm feeling and what I hear turn me on to just come up with what I hope are good things, good ideas. I don't consider myself really a soloist; I'm not crazy about playing drum solos. But the sound of the drums, my drums especially, turns me on to stuff. The sound will turn me on to something, which will turn me on to something else, and it'll grow into something worthwhile. I hope.

AAJ: The album ends with those older cover tunes—Monk's "Evidence and Charlie Parker's "Cheryl. I love "Evidence here—people talk about "head-solo-head, but here it's literally true. The tune starts with a sort of Motian-ized restatement of the song's head and then there's a solo—just one solo: you. How'd this come about?

PM: I wanted to do the tune. I play that one a lot with Frisell and Lovano. So I wanted to do something different with it—and since there weren't any drum solos on the record, I thought that might be a good place for one. That melody turns me on, so I thought, just have the band play the melody and maybe it'll give me a springboard to play from. I'll play a solo and then just play the head out. That's all it was. And the Charlie Parker blues at the end ["Cheryl ] is short, man—I don't think it's even three minutes long. Only the saxophones play and they just play a couple choruses apiece and take it out. It's more or less a statement—about music, about the music of Monk and Bird and people that I loved and grew up with. I wanted to play some of their music and make a statement, but not get into a long [laughing] diatribe or anything.

AAJ: Well, a lot of the original bop tunes were very short as well.

PM: Yeah. People always said that it was for radio play—two minutes, three minutes. Four minutes was really getting long.

AAJ: So when you play out with this band, do you find that the tunes change much night to night?

PM: Yeah, pretty much. I always feel that each night is a new night. I guess the arrangements stay the same. But the playing may change. Since there are six, seven people in the band, it's not going to change that much. But I'm never bored.

AAJ: Does this band have a big book of songs to play?

PM: Yeah, there's a lot of music, man. There's so much music. I remember a quote by Charlie Parker where he said something like, "If there's somebody in the band that doesn't like a particular song that we're playing, we don't have to do it. There's a million songs out there. There's all kind of material out there. With this band, it started out being bebop, but now we've got my music, bebop, pop music, standard songs—just a wealth of music. It really is a big book, a huge book. It's also a huge book with the trio of Frisell and Lovano. When we're playing, Frisell always brings all the music with him. It's huge!

AAJ: No wonder you're never bored.

PM: No, I'm always looking for new stuff. I'm going to be recording again with the trio of Frisell and Lovano and with the Motian Band. I'm going through stuff now, looking at stuff and trying to figure out what I want to do, what songs to do. I'm writing music. We'll see what happens.

AAJ: This is a good time to talk about the Paul Motian Trio—of you, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. The newest record from this group is I Have the Room Above Her (ECM, 2005). This band's got quite a history at this point—you've worked together for more than twenty years. Tell me about Bill and Joe and what you like about them, what it is that this band does.

PM: Well, they're great. That trio started out as a quintet [including altoist Billy Drewes and bassist Ed Schuller]. It turned into a trio after being a quintet because we were on tour with the quintet, and there was one particular song we were playing which called for the bass to lay out. So for a while it was just me and Joe and Bill playing, and that's when I got the idea to have a trio. It seemed like I could get the music across with a trio, and at that time economics played a role as well. So that's how that started and now we've been doing it for a long time. I never get tired of playing with these guys. It keeps changing. It keeps getting better. There's always new material to play. There are always suggestions from Bill and Joe about songs and new ideas. So now every year we play for two weeks at the Vanguard. It's been going on for a while and we're going to do it this year again in September. It's a lot of fun, man—the trio's a lot of fun.

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