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Paul Motian: Zen Brushstrokes

Tom Greenland By

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Larry Gelb
America Is Free

George Garzone
Among Friends
Stunt Records

Michael Adkins Quartet
Hat Hut

Ed Schuller & the Reunion Trio
Serendipity: Live at A-Trane, Berlin
Tutu Records

Drummer Paul Motian, a septua- (going on octo-) genarian and 50-plus-year veteran of the New York jazz scene, continues to sound 'young.' On four recent releases, Motian maintains his stature as a paragon of empathetic and highly interactive accompaniment, one who says more with less.

New Jersey pianist/composer Larry Gelb's America is Free is a collection of well-crafted originals, many of which sound like they belong in the Great American Songbook. Featuring Cameron Brown on bass, the Vanguard Orchestra's irrepressible Dick Oatts on woodwinds and Motian on drums, this band of seasoned veterans is comfortably in the pocket. Even in this fairly conventional setting however, the music is considerably enlivened by Gelb's gently modulating chord progressions, Oatts' persuasive lyricism and especially Motian's persistent unpredictability. By leaving out hits where they're most expected, Motian appears to be resisting the temptation to play the first thing that pops into his head, waiting instead for the second or even third idea that comes along. The group is most expansive on the Paul Bley-esque "Tyson's Tale," in which a ruminative opening leads to a song-like group improvisation, ranging dynamically from turbulent to calm.

Among Friends is the latest from Boston tenor legend George Garzone, with Motian, Steve Kuhn on piano and Danish bassist Anders Christensen. Like Gelb's group, the members of this quartet have collectively logged considerable bandstand hours and they seem under no compulsion to prove their mettle. Indeed while Garzone is known for his hard-driving work with The Fringe, here he unveils his unsentimentally tender ballad sound, emphasizing melody and mood, occasionally spicing up his solos with his trademark triadic chromaticism. The date features five of the leader's compositions, including his pensive ballad "Farewell," supplemented by covers, most notably a sterling rendition of "My One and Only Love". The closing track, "Free," is open-ended but consistently tuneful, featuring Garzone on soprano and Motian in a more extroverted humor, beating out chatty repartee on his snare drum.

Tenor saxophonist Michael Adkins is representative of the young lions that Motian often mingles with, a relatively less experienced but adamant original, as evidenced by Rotator, his second date as a leader that features Motian, pianist Russ Lossing and bassist John Hebert. The album's tracks are presented in the order they were recorded, with no rehearsals or alternate takes. Adkins' melodies are peripatetic, suggesting directions but resisting decisive conclusions. His solo style recalls Monk in the sense that he'll 'worry' a kernel of musical thought relentlessly with obsessive reiterations until it eventually unravels into something else. Lossing and Hebert meld well with the leader's concept, ghosting his gestures with sympathetic echoes delivered with like insistence. Motian is especially interactive in this setting, particularly on "Encrypted," the languorous "Number Five" and "Reflection," his deconstructed pulse anchoring cohesive group interactivity.

Serendipity, led by bassist Ed Schuller, is a live trio date from Berlin's A-Trane club with Motian and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano. Often heard with guitarist Bill Frisell, Lovano and Motian's ongoing musical conversation is enhanced here by Schuller's robust tone, dramatic double-stops, contrapuntal textures and nimble propulsion. An accurate record of the evening's second set (no overdubs, reordering, etc.), the disc demonstrates each member's flexibility under fire as well as their collective ability to keep musical ideas afloat. Lovano is unsurprisingly excellent, kneading sophisticated harmonic language with a sound-for-its-own-sake sensibility, always leavening his lines with exquisite taste. Motian, as always, is a master of allusion, orchestrating his pulse across the kit, following sudden lulls with unexpected strikes; his playing on "Mu-Point" is a fine example of his minimalist-modernist approach that, like a Zen painting, can imply an entire landscape with a few brush strokes.

Tracks and Personnel

American Music

Tracks: The World of a Dream; Motian Picture; Her First Valentine; America Is Free; Susan; The Honeymooners Now; Dove; Ten Khetwadi Lane; Tyson's Tale; I'm Not Supposed to Fall in Love.

Personnel: Larry Gelb: piano; Paul Motian: drums; Cameron Brown: bass; Dick Oatts: flute; tenor, alto and soprano saxophones.

Among Friends

Tracks: Theme for Ernie; Alone; To My Papa; Between Two Cities; My One and Only Love; Milestones; Farewell; Free.

Personnel: George Garzone: tenor sax; Steve Kuhn: piano; Anders Christensen: bass; Paul Motian: drums.


Tracks: Rotator; Their May Wings; Silent Screen; Pearl 21; Forena; Encrypted; Number five; Reflection.

Personnel: Michael Adkins: tenor saxophone; Russ Lossing: piano; John Hébert: double bass; Paul Motian: drums.


Tracks: 26-2; Conception Vessel; Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are; Abacus; Mu-Point; Cymbalism; Lonnie's Lament.

Personnel: Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; Ed Schuller: bass; Paul Motian: drums.


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