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

Dave Sumner By

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There is an edge-of-sleep quality to the recently departed Paul Motian's drumming, and to much of the music he recorded. It's a dreaminess that reflects the spark of subconscious creativity even as the body sits at rest. For the Love of Sarah is a tribute to Motian's music, and from the opening moments it's like stepping into the middle of a story about a dream.

It would be difficult not to draw comparisons with another recent Motian tribute album recorded shortly before his passing: guitarist Joel Harrison's String Choir and The Music of Paul Motian (Sunnyside Records, 2011). But where Harrison's album embraced the sonorous melodies of Motian performances, Motian Sickness channels the drummer's rhythmic dynamics. Evidence of this is seen, not just in drummer Jeff Cosgrove's approach to these ten Motian compositions, but also through the bass, mandolin, and viola that round out the quartet.

Mandolinist Jamie Masefield brings a rustic, earthy quality to the music, and it isn't such a divergent choice of instrumentation that it causes thematic drift. Many of Motian's albums, especially on Winter & Winter, had a folkloric quality to them, and the inclusion of mandolin here seems not just an inspired decision but also a logical one.

Violist Mat Maneri captures the hazy sway of many Motian recordings, and has effectively been set up to function as the de facto sax part of Motian's classic trio with saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell. It's an illuminating statement by the quartet that it's not difficult to flip the comparison on its head and posit that Lovano's slow and winding sax was, all along, the stand-in for viola.

Bassist John Hébert possesses unpredictability throughout—an almost indecipherable pattern, as if hurriedly crossing a stream, leaping from one rock to another with little time to make the next decision. It makes for some thrilling moments.

While melodic excursions like "The Story of Maryam" present some sublime moments of beauty, it's the rhythmic explorations that provide the album highlights. "Mumbo Jumbo," with its staccato march of mandolin and bass, and the verging-on-free bursts of dissonance on the opener "Dance" do more than just offer up captivating tunes, they establish the quartet's rules of engagement with Motian's body of work. Motian had a sense of rhythm that was as ephemeral as it was dynamic. On For the Love of Sarah, the quartet conjures up the substantive form of Motian's sound just as proficiently as it imbues it with his ethereal qualities.

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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