Paul Motian is best known to most jazz fans as the drummer in perhaps the greatest piano trio ever: the one led by Bill Evans in 1960-1961, which also included bassist Scott LaFaro. But that was a long time ago, and Motian has moved on and explored new realms over three decades as a leader. His contribution to ECM's Rarum
series chronicles a fifteen year association with that label and provides a fascinating and useful introduction to his solo work.
Motian, along with Sunny Murray and Andrew Cyrille, pioneered an approach to drumming that focuses less on an explicit beat and more on shifting fields of sound revolving around an implied pulse that is as unobtrusive but ever-present as a heartbeat. Listening to his playing, it is often difficult to imagine him actually striking his drums and cymbals; rather, he seems to be causing them to vibrate by some metaphysical form of magnetism.
This is apparent on the first of the disc's nine Motian-penned tracks, "One In Four," with Paul Bley, John Surman, and Bill Frisell. Motian plays discontinuously, punctuating the loosely organized tune with ever-changing interjections of rhythm. The continual free invention between the players here is exhilarating. "Conception Vessel," a 1972 duet with Keith Jarrett, is of its time but again, Motian's constant ingenuity enthralls.
Four tracks on the recording come from two trio albums with Charles Brackeen on saxophones and either David Izenzon or J.F. Jenny-Clark on bass. "Dance" features some lovely soloing by Izenzon, while "Abacus" presents Brackeen in an exuberantly Ayler-esque mode. "Asia" is the standout here. Izenzon's scratchy bowing recalls Eastern string instruments while Brackeen states a wistful melody haiku-like in its simplicity. Motian mixes in gongs, shakers, bowls, and tambourine before moving to the traps for an exploration of the theme. The whole thing is a completely enchanting example of the gentle side of free jazz.
Work with a young Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell closes out the set with some more explicitly ECM-trademarked material. A highlight here is "Mandeville," a countryish romp of the sort Frisell later explored in the Ginger Baker Trio. Altogether, Motian's collection is remarkably consistent in tone and focus, making it enjoyable as an album in a way many of the Rarums are not. It is also a great place to start for those interested in exploring the music of a profound percussionist and composer.
Personnel: Paul Motian, drums and percussion; Paul Bley, piano; John Surman, soprano sax; Bill Frisell, guitar; Keith Jarrett, piano; Charles Brackeen, tenor and soprano saxes; David Izenzon, double-bass; J.F. Jenny-Clark, double-bass; Joe Lovano, tenor sax; Billy Drewes, alto sax; Ed Schuller, double-bass