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Motian Sickness: The Music of Paul Motian: For the Love of Sarah

Dan Bilawsky By

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The parts of the drum set, viewed individually or as a collective whole, fit neatly under the "percussion" heading in the musical instrument world, yet Paul Motian rarely seemed to view them as objects to be struck. Motian found a way to finesse the cymbals, flirt with the drums and free the drum set from the shackles of firm placement and strict time. His painterly approach to playing, which helped to give the Bill Evans Trio its organic identity, set a new standard in jazz, and Motian continued to delight in defying drumming conventions until the day he died, in 2011.

While critical acclaim often followed his performances and recordings, most of the praise seemed to focus on his work behind the kit and the group performances as a whole; Motian-as-composer didn't get much ink. Drummer Jeff Cosgrove, understanding the value in Motian's written work, put this project together to honor him through his music and right this wrong in some small way.

Skeptics might think of this as a self-serving attempt to cash in on the reputation of a recently departed legend, but it should be noted that this project was conceived before Motian's passing and took several years to take shape. Cosgrove had Motian's blessing and assistance with putting this music together and, while the timing turned this into a tribute to a dearly missed musical guru, it was conceived as an affirmation of his musical powers in life.

Motian's music, like his playing, was notable for its flexibility and fancy free notions, and Cosgrove maintains both ideals with these interpretations. Fidgety drumming notions ("Dance"), spooky, yet comforting confines ("Conception Vessel") and folk-ish purity ("The Story of Maryam"), courtesy of Mat Maneri's viola, all come into focus at various times. While the music acts as a reflection of Motian's thoughts and style—as filtered through Cosgrove and company—several pieces also conjure thoughts of guitarist Bill Frisell. Frisell, along with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, traveled many miles with Motian and left indelible marks on the drummer's music. Two late album entries—the wonderfully engaging title track and the album-closing "One Time Out"—bear this out.

Motian spent plenty of time experimenting with ensemble construction, working with multiple guitars and saxophones or the aforementioned trio, and Cosgrove shows a kinship to the late drummer in this respect. His odd choice of viola, mandolin, bass and drums works remarkably well, reflecting the idiosyncratic beauty in Motian's music.

For The Love Of Sarah is an important recording that sheds light on an oft-ignored facet of Paul Motian's career. Maybe this can get the ball rolling for other groups to follow suit and try on his tunes.

Track Listing: Dance; Conception Vessel; The Storyteller; From Time to Time; The Story of Maryam; Mumbo Jumbo; Arabesque; For the Love of Sarah; The Owl of Cranston; One Time Out.

Personnel: Jeff Cosgrove: drums; John Hebert: bass; Mat Maneri: viola; Jamie Masefield: mandolin.

Title: For the Love of Sarah | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced

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