August 27, 2001
PAUL MOTIAN & THE E.B.B.B
Winter & Winter 910 063-2
Around the time of tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon's celebrated U.S. homecoming in the mid-1970s, the slogan "Bebop Is the Music of the Future" began to gain currency. In truth, the instrumental mastery, joyful sophistication and ballsy power Gordon and other suddenly-lionized first generation beboppers like Red Rodney, Johnny Griffin and Art Blakey brought to the music exposed the then-fashionable wan fusion as the infantile pabulum that it was.
Most jazz fans welcomed this shot in the arm, little realizing that legions of neo-cons would soon pervert the slogan and use adherence to the so-called tradition as a metaphoric club to beat into submission any musician who continued to play differently. Today, a CD of bop-era standards is as likely to rouse as much excitement as a Swing revival disc by zoot suit wearing newbies.
Unless, of course, you happen to a leader like 70-year-old drummer Paul Motian, who is old enough to have experienced bop first hand. In opposition to the young fogies' museum curators' focus on bop standards, the drummer recasts and refines them, using his Electric Bebop Band (E.B.B.), featuring a non-Young Lion approved line up of two guitars, one electric bass and two saxes.
After all, Motian, best known for his tenures with Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, doesn't have to prove his legitimacy by performing in a two-horns-and-rhythm-section band. Considering most of the combos he has been leading since 1977 have usually included guitars and saxophones, often played by such craft masters as Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, he obviously prefers these textures.
With a program of compositions by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Tadd Dameron and Herbie Nichols plus three band originals, the album title refers to its place of creation. Milanese saxophonist Pietro Tonolo is on board for the first time — as is young American guitarist Ben Monder — but considering he was playing with Gil Evans' Orchestra as long ago as 1982, he scarcely brings a Continental slant to any of the material. Danish electric bassist Anders Christensen takes Steve Swallow's place as well, but, except for the odd chord, he's barely noticeable, sticking, in time-honored bop bassist fashion, to propelling the beat forward.
Consider "Gallops Gallop", which Monk probably scarcely imagined as a dual guitar vehicle, but that's why it's so impressive. Most of the tune consists of the two fretmen weaving melodies and counter melodies around one another. At one point, though, Tonolo showcases a delicate, yet flowing soprano solo sustained by Motian breaking up the beat in the background. Additionally, most of the standards are given economical readings, with the themes clearly stated in just enough time for solos to not wear out their welcome. "Oska T.", for instance, initially recorded by a Monk big band at Carnegie Hall, works just as well here as a mini drum feature.
At the same time, Motian's two originals and Cardenas' one tune are strong enough to seamlessly fit into the program. "New Moon", the guitarist's contribution, for instance, is a romantic ballad, built on single string forays and some artful saxophone tonal blends, not unlike Dameron's vocal standard, "If You Could See Me Now", also featured on the disc.
Interestingly enough, one of the drummer's tune, "Fiasco" — which is anything but — is the most advanced number on the disc. With its discordant harmonies, rock guitar excursions from Monder and Cardenas and a hearty soprano saxophone buzz, it confirms that in the right hands bebop can really be futuristic music.
Now, if only a few other players would follow Motian's lead.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Oska T. 2. Birdfeathers 3. Blue Midnight 4. Introspection 5. New Moon 6. Fiasco 7. Gallops Gallop 8. If You Could See Me Now 9. 2300 Skidoo
Personnel: Chris Cheek (tenor saxophone); Pietro Tonolo (soprano and tenor saxophones); Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas (guitars); Anders Christensen (electric bass); Paul Motian (drums)