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For about the last fifteen years, drummer Paul Motian has explored the possibilities of two guitars, two saxophones, bass and drums with his Electric Bebop Band. Always drawing from a revolving cast of younger, emergent musicians, he augments the lineup with another guitar on Garden of Eden.
Though a septet with this instrumentation could easily become dense and busy, the tunes are carefully arranged and skillfully executed with a billowy lightness. Saxophonists Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek alternate from playing strict unisons to freer swirling lines, while the cleanly phrased guitars of Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder and Jakob Bro (the newest member) weave intricate harmonies underneath. Bassist Jerome Harris often propels the group with deft lines, and Motian's painterly drumming adds structure, texture and nuance. Like having a good discussion, the musicians add their voice without overpowering, exemplified on the atmospheric "Etude, a Motian composition.
The modified instrumentation of this septet also signals a shift in emphasis from reinterpretation of the jazz canon to original music. "Mesmer boasts an uncomplicated, almost folksy melody repeated by Cheek as Malaby modulates the theme by doubling the line or playing only snatches of it to alter its feel. The guitarists also toy with the sequence, so that the theme is heard in varying phases with different voicings. The tune spotlights Harris, who is free to improvise around the others' movement. This is a recurrent pattern: whether it's Bro's twisting on "Mumbo Jumbo, Monder's shimmering against the swingy motif of "Prelude to Narcissus, or Malaby's soaring exclamations on "Endless, one or two musicians are featured on each tune, the others mutually supportive.
With fourteen tracks totaling just under 57 minutes (the longest around is around seven minutes), this music is not a parade of soloists playing over changes. Rather, it's about collective expression, each piece evocative of a different mood.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.