Joel Harrison String Choir: The Music of Paul Motian (2011)
With over forty albums as a leader, Motian's music aligns his belief in freedom, as a prerequisite, with a uniquely developed jazz vernacular and the American-born drummer's Armenian roots. Harrison gets right to the nub of the writing, focusing on the drummer's longstanding collaboration with guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano as the primary reference point for interpretations of ten Motian compositions, and two tunes associated with the drummer, for the guitarist's String Choiran often ethereal, but equally grounded group that conjoins two guitaristsHarrison, and the equally overlooked Liberty Ellmanand a string quartet with no shortage of collective improvising cred.
The underlying beauty and open-ended economy of Motian's writing is the current that runs beneath the entire program. On the title track to It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago (ECM, 1985), Harrison and Ellman join at the hip for an arrangement that passes Motian's melancholy melody, tag team-like, amongst the groupheld by the guitarists, at times, but elsewhere by violinists Christian Howes (Harrison's first-call since The Wheel and another criminally undervalued talent) and Sam Bardfeld, violist Mat Maneri and cellist Dana Leong. The beauty of this album opener is the String Choir's avoidance of delineation, seamlessly integrating with persistent, egalitarian interaction. Elsewhere, Harrison takes the more jagged "Drum Music," first heard on Le Voyage (ECM, 1979), but more rooted in the quintet version on Jack of Clubs (Soul Note, 1984), with a central free-for-all that spotlights the sextet's six-way telepathy, as first one idea from Leon acts as a rallying point, only to gradually evolve to the next..and the next, before everyone cues back to the angular theme.
Combining abstract Americana interests brought to Motian's trio by Frisell on Harrison's arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso," and turning Scott LaFaro's "Jade Visions"the only piece not appearing on a Motian record, but a tune he played often with pianist Bill Evansinto a haunting tone poem, the conversational approach to its blending of structure and spontaneity is all-Motianand, of course, all-Harrison.
The Music of Paul Motian suggests that Motian's music deserves to be reexamined for its repertoire potential. With Harrison's sometimes expansive, elsewhere intimate arrangements for his unorthodox String Choir, the guitarist has created a lasting tribute to a drummer who, as he approaches octogenarian status in 2011, clearly has plenty left to say. It's also a compelling endorsement of Harrison, an artist who reveals new twists and turns with each successive release.
Track Listing: It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago; Drum Music; Cathedral Song; Misterioso; Mode VI; Owl of Cranston; Jade Visions; Split Decision; Etude; Mumbo Jumbo; Conception Vessel; From Time to Time.
Personnel: Christian Howes: violin; Sam Bardfeld: violin; Mat Maneri: viola (1-4, 6, 9, 10, 12); Peter Ugrin: viola (5, 7, 8, 11); Dana Leong: violincello; Joel Harrison: guitars; Liberty Ellman: guitars.
Record Label: Sunnyside Records
Style: Beyond Jazz