|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Paul Motian
In the Beginning 1963-64
Drums and Dreams
Intakt CD 197
Connie Crothers - David Arner
Spontaneous Suite for Two Pianos
Mikroton CD 14/15/16
Something In The Air: Multiple Disc Sets for the Adventurous
By Ken Waxman
Defying doomsayers who predicted the death of the LP, the CD’s disappearance appears oversold. True music collectors prefer the physical presence and superior fidelity of a well-designd CD package and important material continues to released. Partisans of advanced music, for instance, can choose any one of these sets. The only saxophonist to be part of saxophonist John Coltrane’s working group, tenorist Pharoah Sanders is celebrated for his own highly rhythmic Energy Music. In the Beginning 1963-64 ESP-Disk ESP-4069, a four CD-package highlight his steady growth. Besides Sanders’ first album as leader, very much in the freebop tradition, as part of quintet of now obscure players, the other previously released sounds capture Sanders’ recordings in the Sun Ra Arkestra. More valuable is a CD of unissued tracks where Sanders asserts himself in quartets led by cornetist Don Cherry or Canadian pianist Paul Bley. The set is completed by short interviews with all of the leaders. Oddly enough, although they precede his solo debut, Sanders’ playing is most impressive with Bley and Cherry. With more of a regularized beat via bassist David Izenson and drummer J.C. Moses, Cherry’s tracks advance melody juxtaposition and parallel improvisations with Sanders’ harsh obbligato contrasted with the cornetist’s feisty flourishes; plus the darting lines and quick jabs of pianist Joe Scianni provides an unheralded pleasure. Bley’s economical comping and discursive patterning lead the saxophonist into solos filled with harsh tongue-twisting lines and jagged interval leaps. With Izenson’s screeching assent and drummer Paul Motion’s press rolls the quartet plays super fast without losing the melodic thread. Sun Ra is a different matter. Recorded in concert, the sets include helpings of space chants such as “Rocket #9” and “Next Stop Mars”; a feature for Black Harold’s talking log drums; showcases for blaring trombones, growling trumpets; plus the leader’s propulsive half-down-home and half-outer-space keyboard. Sharing honking and double-tonguing interludes with Arkestra saxists Pat Patrick and Marshall Allen, Sanders exhibits his characteristic stridency. Enjoyable for Sun Ra’s vision which is spectacular and jocular, these tracks suggest why the taciturn Sanders soon went on his own.
Partially in reaction to vocifeous American players like Sanders, by the 1970s European innovators developed a spacious and subdued take on improvisation. This can be sampled via the solo work of Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre, a model of taste and restraint on Drums and Dreams Intakt CD 197 is. Overall it’s 1972’s Abanaba which is the defining masterwork, with 1970’s Drum Conversation and 1978’s Mountain Wind, the build up and elaboration of maturity. Favre has such command of the sonorous properties of his expanded kit that he can use approximations of tones from unusual sources such as guiro, conches, unlathed cymbals, thunder sheets plus a regular kit without bombast or showiness. A track such as Kyoto is a fascinating duet between kettle drum and tuned gongs, expanded by Theremin-like resonations; while “Gerunonius” is an essay in abrasion, as textures created by sawing with a bow on drum rims are integrated with shakes, pops and pulls. “Roro” fastens on triple sticking at supersonic speeds, producing ringing tones from log drums, cymbals and gongs, while the final track demonstrates how aggression can be paced as bell trees ping and snares sizzle. CD1 establishes a framework for juxtapositions, with silences integrated with kinetic paradiddles and ruffs. Sounding at times like multiple players, Favre’s distinctive sounds are likely to arise by twisting mallets on aluminum bars as from blunt whacks on oversized gongs. By 1978, his rhythmic palate had expanded so, that he could replicate the sound of a telephone bell ring, Chinese temple bell with equal facility and without any loss in power.
This mixture of delicacy and strength is expanded to its pianistic limits on Spontaneous Suite for Two Pianos Rogueart R0G-037 These four CDs capture an entire recording session beginning with the evocative acceleration from feathery chording to anvil-like kinetic pressure on CD1, track 1, and conclude with key-clipping near player-piano continuum on CD4, track 7. Anyone who follow dual keyboardist like Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia or Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson will be staggered by the work here. Completely improvised, the nine interlocking suites expose almost all variations of what can be extracted from 166 keys. Technical wizardry plus jazz inflections are apparent in the playing of Connie Crothers and David Arner, yet focussed reductionism as well as spontaneity is also on tap. Piano guru Lennie Tristano’s most accomplished student, New York-based Crothers has recorder with jazzmen like drummer Max Roach. Up-state New York’s Arner is associated with choreographers such as Meredith Monk. Playing side-by-side with layered chords, palindromes or in counterpoint, the two evoke many aspects of piano literature while creating their own. For instance “The Hoofer” which bounces and taps as a terpsichorean fantasia is followed by “Blues and the Moving Image”. Despite low-pitched glissandi, this blues is polyrhythmic, depending on a dusting of high-frequency tremolo to provide the necessary emotion. “The Reckoning” is meditative and linear, while “Density 88X2” moves from jocular patterns to blunt syncopation. An extended sequence like “City Rhapsody” may unroll staccatissimo with soundboard rumbles and ringing cadenzas in equal measures, but it never unravels or loses connectivity. Overall the real connections this duo exhibits is with their own histories. Basso notes on “Swing Migration” and “Fool” both unearth Tristanto-like themes among the cumulative cascades and pitch-sliding vibrations.
With the German capital now home to a mass of creative musicians, it takes 40 selections on three-CD anthology Echtzeitmusik Berlin Miikroton CD 14/15/16) to try to define the scene. Although currents of free jazz, notated music, punk-rock and all sorts of electronic programming are universally accepted, echtzeitmusik is defined differently by each innovator. For instance the long pauses and foreshortened breaths from Robin Hayward’s microtonal tuba and intermittent plinks from Morten Olsen’s rotating bass drum on “Deep Skin” may come from the same reductionist base as “Versprechen” which mutates piano strings strums by Andera Neumann with linear trumpet breaths from Sabine Ercklentz. But the studio collage that’s Annette Krebs’ “In-between”, mutating ring-modulator whooshes, music samples and layered voices has little in common except density with Antoine Chessex’s “Errances” which inflates a single saxophone’s tremolo timbres to near organ-like cascades. So what defines the sounds? The key may be “Blues No. 5” by Perlonex. Guitar feedback, turntable scratches plus drum smacks and electronic quivers reach an intensity that equals the emotionalism of a blues singer. Consequently honesty and innovation supersede musical forms. Echtzeitmusik Berlin allows the listener to sample and choose.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 18 #4
December 15, 2012
Masabumi Kikuchi Trio
Drum Music (Music of Paul Motian)
Sunnyside SSC 1319
By Ken Waxman
Although inextricably linked to Bill Evans for his sensitive work in the pianist’s trio of the early ‘60s, drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011) developed his minimalist rhythmic sense earlier in clarinetist Tony Scott’s quartet and extended himself as a band leader and composer from 1972 onwards. Helmed by two pianists of widely divergent ages and backgrounds, these fine CDs celebrate Motian’s contributions as a player and writer.
Although cast in the same mould as the Evans trio, pianist Masabumi Kikuchi’s Sunrise is a much freer date with ensemble improvisations in an all-original program. Formerly part of the Tethered Moon trio with Motian, which specialized in interpretations of others’ work, the then 70-year-old Tokyo-born keyboardist decided he “didn’t want to be part of someone else’s history” and also gave free reign to the drummer, then 78, and the much younger bassist Thomas Morgan, who has toured with pianist Craig Taborn.
With nearly every one of the 10 tunes unrolling in slow motion, structure usually depends on Kikuchi’s translucent note placement and craggy yet limpid phrasing, as well as the bassist’s sympathetic plucks. More sensed than heard, Motian’s contribution in the main consist of a cymbal snap here or an angled rim shot there. Even when he assets himself as on the aptly named “Short Stuff” and “Sticks And Cymbals”, the result is about as far from the usual percussion showcased as Japan is from the US. With staccato clattering and patting the first piece is over almost before it starts; as for the latter, the drummer contrasts his isolated clinks, reverberations and ruffs with Morgan’s thick string slaps and the pianist’s tremolo pacing, while higher-pitched keys clank like mahjong tiles. With most tracks taken rubato, any tendency to floweriness on the pianist’s part is muted, as are any over-aggressive moves from the other players. If there’s a weakness it’s that the tracks frequently appear truncated, as if the musicians still have more to express.
Moving from a physical expression of Motian’s skills to his talents as a composer is Drum Music, a solo CD by pianist Russ Lossing, who played with Motian on-and-off over a 12 year period and has also worked with saxophonist Dave Liebman among others. As weighty in his interpretation as Kikuchi is buoyant in his, Lossing’s unrelenting attack is as dynamic as it is respectful. With Motian’s favorite writing tempo mid-tempo or slower, the 10 tracks are interpreted in high recital fashion. Linear, precise and often magisterial, Lossing strives to extract every nuance out of every measure. A tune such as “Gang of Five” for instance, encompasses basso rumbles, abrasive internal string plucks and soundboard echoes. When the animated theme finally appears so do affiliated variants. A tune such as “Mumbo Jumbo” confides itself to the piano’s lowest registers until jittery syncopation ends it; while “Dance” unfolds a lyrical line and percussive stops simultaneously, with every key stroke and string scrape precisely balanced. Not every track is as slowly paced however. The title tune for instance cascades flashily and kinetically as cumulative chording pumps up the narrative. In contrast, hints of a Latin beat poke through “Fiasco”, with the lively melody rappelling up the scale and key pounding characterizing the finale.
Conceived as an 80th birthday tribute to Motian, circumstances meant that Drum Music appears as a posthumous tribute. But considering Motian’s fragile health in the past few years could there be a premonition in Lossing’s funereal pacing of “Last Call” here? Restrained, romantic and reverberating, the playing – and melody – could serve as a threnody for Motian and his lifetime of work as superlative drummer and cunning composer.
Tracks: Drum: Conception Vessel; Gang of Five; Fiasco; Last Call; It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago; Mumbo Jumbo; Olivia’s Dream; Dance; In Remembrance of Things Past; Drum Music
Personnel: Drum: Russ Lossing: piano
Tracks: Sunrise: Ballad I; New Day; Short Stuff; So What Variations; Ballad II; Sunrise; Sticks And Cymbals; End Of Day; Uptempo; Last Ballad
Personnel: Sunrise: Masabumi Kikuchi: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Paul Motian: drums
--For New York City Jazz Record August 2012
August 6, 2012
A Long Story
Symmetrical and ornamental, Israeli-born pianist Anat Fort’s compositions and playing seem geared more towards the comfort zone of her guests – bassist Ed Schuller, drummer Paul Motian and reedist Perry Robinson – than establishing a unique identity.
Crucial to this arrangement is the drummer, who once piloted the influential combos of Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. His delicate cymbal taps and perceptive bounces shape the sounds as much as the tyro keyboardist. New York-based for a decade, among other projects, Fort was recently commissioned to create new arrangements of Israeli music. But no Middle Eastern tinges appear on this CD.
Instead Fort announces herself as a stylist wedded to the contemporary American piano tradition. Prodigious in her playing, she balances bravura invention from both hands with a gift for composing serpentine melodies. Most spectacular is “Not the Perfect Storm” where Motian’s circular rolls and rebounds accompany low-frequency pedal- expanded timbres and plinking chordal patterns. In just over seven minutes she references Broadway ballads and Romantic waltzes. Only on “Rehaired”, with staccato key clipping, though, does she move away from expected formulas.
It’s up to the perpetually inventive Robinson to disrupt the CD’s placidity. On “As Two/Something ‘Bout Camels” his split-tones growls spur Schuller to add gravitas to his feature – which pays dividends when the energized pianist instantly integrates his last notes into her solo. “Chapter Two” finds the clarinetist’s sluicing altissimo merging Klezmer-like cries and semi-classical glissandi causing Fort to turn her touch forte.
On her next CD, the pianist’s originality should be as prominent as her invention is here.
-- Ken Waxman
-- For CODA Issue 335
October 3, 2007
KEVIN NORTONS BAUHAUS QUARTET
Barking Hoop BKH-008
TONY MALABY TRIO
Sunnyside Records SSC 1137
Evolving his improvising from the odd side of convention, while maintaining a healthy respect for tradition, soprano and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby could be the successor to Joe Lovano in terms of being an all-around, advanced inside player.
Like the older woodwind player, he teaches sax workshops, is on call as a sidemen for many bands as well as his own, interprets standards, jazz and otherwise, as well as writing his own material. Heck, with his girth and beard he could pass for Lovanos kid brother.
Unlike the Cleveland-born Lovano however, Jersey City resident Malaby is initially from Tucson and draws on his southwestern background for color in his compositions. Often, on ADOBE as well, he keep his tenor tone light enough to almost be in alto range. Also, unlike Lovano, Malaby has still to make his definite statement on CD. Working with veteran drummer Paul Motian, who backed Bill Evan and Keith Jarrett, plus bassist and Tim Berne associate Drew Gress on this date, for instance, his deference means that a distinctive identity fails to appear. With the nine compositions, including his own, paramountly group music, hes more distinctively adventurous as a sideman in percussionist Kevin Nortons Bauhaus Quartet.
A fellow Jerseyite, Nortons background ranges from New music percussion performances to gigs backing iconoclastic composer Anthony Braxton and Swing Era bassist Milt Hinton. Moving effectively among drum kit, miscellaneous percussion and vibraphone, Norton is also an incisive composer, which he shows on TIME-SPACE MODULATOR, as he has on a series of discs since the late 1990s. Boasting as impressive a line-up as Malabys solo CD, the band is filled out by bassist John Lindberg, co-founder of the String Trio of New York, and trumpeter Dave Ballou, who has recorded in pianist Satoko Fujiis band and with French hornist Tom Varner.
Overall you get the feeling that the eight compositions on TIME-SPACE MODULATOR are connected by a definite vision -- Nortons. In contrast ADOBE, which mixes Cole Porter tunes and Ornette Coleman lines plus Malabys pieces new and old, comes across as a professionally played collection of songs. Sameness in time and tempo haunts the disc as well.
Surely his own man -- he works with impressionistic pianist Fred Hersch as well as more outside players, Gresss backing ranges from plucked, near-country runs to powerful walking. He holds things together most of the time. No Brainer, for instance, a jaunty, smeary tune written by Malabys wife Angelica Sanchez, features darker chromatic picking, plus cross sticking rattles and rebounds from Motian. It also highlights one of the saxmans better performances as he flutter tongues and irregularly vibrates half tones and partials.
Gresss low-key andante solo is also one of the highlights of Dorotea La Cautiva, an Argentinean ballad. Applying torque to his strings, Gress works up and down them, creating his own harmony as he goes along. With Motian behind him on brushes, Malaby smoothly negotiates the bends in the tune as well, sometimes hitting high, but not shrill notes, creating a tone thats like bittersweet chocolate, honeyed without being sickly sweet.
The theres Gone, appropriately the final track, where echoing spiccato bowing from Gress and double sticking in odd patterns from Motian encourages Malaby --playing soprano -- to pour out speedy arched cries and end with triple-tongued, aviary fluttering.
Other than that, even though the reedist sometimes trills obbligatos and blows more intensely from time to time, one track on ADOBE seems pretty much like the next.
However, almost from the first note he sounds on TIME-SPACE MODULATOR Malaby sounds on top of things. Filled with smeary, sweaty altissimo squeaks, screeching trills and sideslipping explorations, Mother Tongue provides a more complete aural picture of Malaby. Perhaps its because of Nortons stronger compositional skills or a combination of other factors at that time -- this is improvised music after all. Lindberg is as impressive a bassist as Gress, strumming out a faultless beat on this jagged, New Thing-oriented tune and other pieces. Norton contributes press rolls, runs and cymbal clatters and Ballou alternate plunger action with ceiling-glancing notes.
This high standard is maintained throughout until Moonstruck, the final, more-than-13-minute piece that demonstrates what can be done with four committed musicians working together. Combining tougher bass and drum beats and contrapuntal horn parts, the reedist and brassman soon break through polyphonically and head up into the highest registers. Ballous wiggling and hocketing slurs turn to swaggering blasts, while Malabys smeary overblowing takes on the yelping of a disoriented pooch. Ballou keeps up his chromatic cherry picking, always hitting the proper note with the proper brassy flourish and maintaining his purity of tone no matter what. Perfect counterpoint comes from Malabys chesty tenor tones, that sometimes operate with bop-style construction. Triple stopping strums from the lowest point of the bass plus press rolls and nerve beats from the drums signal the pieces final variation, letting the horns reprise the theme, then ending with a faint saxophone whistle.
Other tunes accent Nortons chiming bells mixed with Lindberg strumming below the bridge of his bass, Malaby producing a rubato clarinet-like tone from his soprano, plus trumpet and vibe close harmony that sounds like the work on Eric Dolphys OUT TO LUNCH LP.
The band is able to play a non-greasy blues on Didkovsky, most notable for the work of Ballou and Lindberg. Over counterpoint that includes snorted overblowing from the saxophonist, the brassman pingpongs from clear to muted tones, that references Joe Wilder at one point and Donald Ayler at another, but never misses a beat. Neither does the bassist, as he slaps his strings to such an extent that it seems as if theyre being rammed with a drumstick. Later Lindberg downshifts to percussive taps on the instruments ribs and belly. With Norton bearing down on his kit, the tune reaches a climax with a walking bass line and swirling, squealing timbres from both horn men.
Finally theres Milts Forward Looking Tradition, which honors both the late bassist Hinton with whom Norton played, and theorist/composer George Russell, with whom the Swing Era bassist recorded some of his challenging work. The steady bass and drum pulse complemented by horn obbligatos soon gives way to flighty sketched lines from Ballou, mated with some restrained impressionism from Malaby. Moving between rolling drum paradiddles and shimmering vibe accompaniment, Norton manages to capture both the primitive and progressive sides of Hintons ever-swinging and ever-evolving playing.
TIME-SPACE MODULATOR is another major work by Norton and his musicians, including Malaby. Since ADOBOE was recorded more than a year before the Norton session, its likely that the tenor mans playing and conception is steadily improving. But Malaby still lacks a major recorded statement.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Adobe: 1. Humpty Dumpty 2. Maine 3. Abobe Blues 4. Dorotea La Cautiva 5. No Brainer 6. Mia 7. What is This Thing called Love 8. Cosas 9. Gone
Personnel: Adobe: Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Drew Gress (bass); Paul Motian (drums)
Track Listing: Modulator: 1. Mother Tongue 2. Seoul Soul 3. Didkovsky 4. Milts Forward Looking Tradition 5. Microbig 6. Atie Aife 7. Difficulty 8. Moonstruck
Personnel: Modulator: Dave Ballou (trumpet and cornet);Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones); John Lindberg (bass); Kevin Norton (vibraphone, drums and percussion)
March 14, 2005
PAUL MOTIAN/BILL FRISELL/JOE LOVANO
Paul Motion in Tokio
Winter & Winter 919 052-2
Preeminently a group drummer, Paul Motians solo sessions always seem to find him embedded within the band -- and this one is no exception.
Well-recorded and low-key, the 10 tunes on this reissue of the 1991 IN TOKIO CD are also all of a piece. Leisurely almost to the point of listlessness, the music is most noteworthy for providing a glimpse of saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell before their playing had hardened into their characteristic present day styles.
Frisell especially is a revelation. Rather than employing the phlegmatic countrypolitan licks he uses now, the younger Frisell was more aggressive firing off clipped dynamics and wavering distortion to make his points. At one juncture he breaks time with whammy bar flanging, almost propelling his solo into rock territory.
Today the epitome of the heavy-toned tenor saxist, Lovano here reveals an unexpected delicacy, at times ascending to a feathery, alto-like pitch in his solos. This mellowness doesnt prevent him from extending himself if the occasion arises, however. Adding double tongued slurs in places and staccatissimo overblowing and honks elsewhere, his most common modus operandi is spraying out long lines to intersect with the guitarists chording fills.
Recorded within a few days of the drummers 60th birthday, IN TOKIO finds Motian sticking to the understated rhythmic flow which made his reputation in pianist Bill Evans most important trio with bassist Scott LaFaro, and in bands with pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Charlie Haden. Melodic overall, at times he appears to be sandpapering the drum tops and rattling the toms and cymbals with brush strokes.
Surrounded by adagio intermezzos, the nearly 11 minute Mumbo Jumbo showcases Lovano and Frisells version of double counterpoint, as waves of distorted reverb and extended echo conflate in such a way that it almost seems like two saxophones and two guitars have been added to the mix. Meantime Motian lays into the cymbals, snares and cowbells with ratamacues and drags. Suggesting gymel -- a medieval technique of splitting one part into two with the same range -- Lovanos centrepiece is a solo that finds him breaking away from the others for a reed biting, glottal tear of repeated tones, flattement and irregularly accentuated notes.
Ending with amplifier buzz, the piece engenders the sort of polite applause with which the Japanese audience greets all the compositions here. Only on It Is, the penultimate track, with its whacked rat-tat-tat drumming and long-lined sax tones, is there louder applause and a few screams.
A memorable, but not particularly unusual live outing, this CD will probably be most enjoyed by those who appreciated this trio first time out and have been awaiting this reissue.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. From Time To Time 2. Shakalaka 3. Kathelin Gray 4. The Hoax 5. Mumbo Jumbo 6. Birdsong I 7. Mode VI 8. Women From Padua 9. It Is 10. Birdsong II
Personnel: Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone); Bill Frisell (guitar); Paul Motian (drums)
August 9, 2004
Winter & Winter 910 093-2
The Current Underneath
Leo CD LR 379
Two approaches to the standard jazz piano trio end up with vastly different results with only one making a major statement.
On THE CURRENT UNDERNEATH, Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch puts aside the sentimental streak that undermined earlier efforts with his Euro-American WHO Trio to create nine slices of thoughtful improvised music. Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and his two famous American sidemen in Tethered Moon, seems to have picked up all the indolent romanticism cast aside by Wintsch however, making EXPERIENCING TOSCA, a torpid and somewhat lugubrious exercise, more notable for lockstep methodology and top-flight recording sound than a range of emotions.
Kikuchi insists that he doesnt like opera, because the visual aspect undermines his imagination. But the melodramatic details of Giacomo Puccinis tale of the painter Cavaradossi, awaiting execution, thinking of his beloved Tosca are so established in Western musical thought that the mere act of homage to the composer provides a syrupy undertone to the eight improvisations.
Intentionally or not this back story isnt helped by the fact that the pianist is a musical chameleon. He has dabbled in everything from contemporary jazz with trumpeter Terumasa Hino and as part of drummer Elvin Jones combo to funk with his All-Night All-Right Off-White Boogie Band. Tethered Moon, formed in 1990, has released earlier tribute CDs to singer Edith Piaf and composer Kurt Weill. It also happens to be completed by veteran bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, both of whom put in time in the bands of two of jazzs Ur-romantic pianists: Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.
That means that almost every tune here is taken adagio or andante with the odd blues change or outright swinging section making its incongruent appearance like a hand-made clay bowl in the midst of a room full of fine crystal. Not that theres too much of that either. One tune is even labeled a blues, but its not the sort of blues Bobby Timmons or even Oscar Peterson would recognize. Motian may highlight powerful cross sticking and Peacock a thumping beat, but the pianists standard changes, characterized by a single, flashy glissando, dont re-imagine the form, the way someone like Uri Caine has down with lieder.
Its the same story for most of the other numbers, low frequency ballads for the most part, filled with vibrated fantasia. In Part II for instance, the output is so subdued and tasteful that it almost sounds as if Kikuchi is referencing It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. Should you want to hear a link to Jarrett or Peterson, however, that comes via the piano mans over-recorded vocalisms. Grunts, retches and groans punctuate the daintiest etudes.
As all this is going on Peacock, whose ability to fit in with any situation has allowed him to work with folks as disparate as ethereal guitarist Ralph Towner and New Thing sax pioneer Albert Ayler, sticks to the pianist like seaweed on rice. Every time Kikuchi makes a particularly salient point, its echoed by the perfect tone from the bassist -- arco or pizzicato. Additionally, when Kikuchi rouses himself from ravishing impressionistic harmonies to showcase swinging left-handed pressure or tremolo voicings, Motians right there, adding a wasabi of knife-sharp cymbal slaps or spherical ratamacues.
Anything but skyward bound, the performances on the CD are actually tethered to the ground, rather than the moon.
Together for a shorter period, The Who Trio has fused into an exceptional performance unit. Peripatetic American drummer Gerry Hemingway, who is occupied with numerous bands on both sides of the Atlantic, adds pinpoint percussion accents exactly where needed, and Swiss bassist Bänz Oester is the consummate accompanist. Chief composer Wintsch, who as a rule sounds less-than-comfortable in freer situations like his CD with guitarist Fred Frith and vocalist Franziska Baumann, may have found the perfect setting for his ideas.
This is made most clear on Seduna in Wallis parts1 and 2, which combined are 14¼-minutes of definite EuroJazz, designated that way because the two draw on both the jazz and classical traditions without straining. A sensible swinger that begins with flashing octaves and key pats from Wintsch, its extended by Hemingways steady snare and cymbal beats plus prickly bent notes from Oester.
Moving into part 2, the tune is decorated with anthem-like harmonies and two handed, two tempo piano notes arriving from different places to intersect. Soon hard-handed touch and pedal extensions ratchet up the tautness and excitement level, as one of Wintschs hands appears to be reaching out across the keyboard to stroke different patterns, augmented with forearm force. Speedy arpeggios roll back and forth with contrasting patterns in either hand, with the pianist generating a dramatic waterfall of slinky, bent notes. Rocketing up the impetus, the drummer contributes rim and cymbal shots and a military tattoo on snare, riding nearly every part of the kit with double flams, bounces and rebounds. Finally the tension dissipates after ponticello shuffle bowing from Oester and what seems to be Wintsch playing the opening strain from Ornette Colemans Focus On Sanity.
European chansonnier-linked ballads make their appearance here as they did on earlier WHO CDs. Yet this time the pianist overcomes their innate mawkishness, using
key clips, pedal pumps and other pragmatic strategies to strip them down to the musical core. Thus a piece like Ma ptite chanson, aided by Oesters thwacks and string-stretching evolves from tinkly piano fluff to a polyrhythmic exercise in tempo changing abstraction. Would that Kikuchi had done the same on his disc.
Other compositions -- by Wintsch, other pop tunesmiths or jointly from the trio --benefit from other surprises. Clacking railway track sounds from the drummer and strummed octaves and cross-handed exercises from pianist livens them up. Meanwhile, the bassists invention is characterized by slapping bow wood against the bull fiddles wood for effect or riding the strings pizzicato like a skateboarder on an incline.
Trombonist Ray Anderson adds his slurring plunger work to the final tune with Wintsch introducing echoing electric piano tones. Yet with WHO members functioning on the same high level as before, Jirai is more a conformation of their talents than a change of pace.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Current: 1. Quartier Lointain 2. Swantra 3. Jerusalem 4. Seduna in Wallis, part 1 5. Seduna in Wallis, part 2 6. Ma ptite chanson 7. Rabin's cat 8. Mir mag halt niemert öppis günnee 9. Jirai*
Personnel: Current: Ray Anderson (trombone)*; Michel Wintsch (piano, electric piano*); Bänz Oester (bass); Gerry Hemingway (drums)
Track Listing: Tosca: 1. Prologue 2. Part I 3. Part II 4. Part III 5. Homage to Puccini 6. Ballad 7. Blues for Tosca 8. Part IV
Personnel: Tosca: Masabumi Kikuchi (piano); Gary Peacock (bass); Paul Motian (drums)
July 12, 2004
Jazz in Motion JIM 75086
Red Giant RG011
Practically a jazz cliché, the sax and rhythm quartet has been a staple of the music since the late 1940s and early 1950s, when it became the favored compact configuration for modernists to tour from town to town.
Since that time every major improviser, definitely including such iconoclastic figures as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and, surprisingly, even Anthony Braxton, David Murray and Evan Parker has played and recorded in that formation from time to time. So the challenge facing someone is how best to adjust the quartet setting to his or her own ends.
These accomplished discs by a young Dutch tenor saxophonist and an even younger American pianist present two accommodations to the form that has almost as much history associated with it as a Civil War battlefield.
A thoroughly-schooled musician whose CDs have featured him collaborating with everyone from iconoclastic pianist Misha Mengelberg to players drawn from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for a ballad album, saxophonist Honing, 37, links up with three hoary veterans of the jazz wars here. Step forward pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian.
Meanwhile pianist Vijay Iyer, 29, who regularly worked in Steve Colemans band and with Roscoe Mitchells the Note Factory and who has an interdisciplinary PhD in music and cognitive science from University of California, Berkeley, tries to reflect his South Indian classical (Carnatic) background in his music. He fills out his quartet with other younger players, including longtime associate alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who plays Paul Desmond to Iyers Dave Brubeck or perhaps it would be hipper to say Charlie Rouse to Iyers Thelonious Monk.
Ironically enough, there are times on SEVEN when it appears as if Honing is vying to capture Desmonds tongue-in-cheek designation of himself as worlds slowest saxophonist. Awash in the glacial tempos and formal presentation that the other quartet members have toyed with for years, you suspect that hes using the session to experiment with extended techniques. Adopting a sharp, almost alto-like tone throughout, the tenor man can be heard indulging in spetrofluctuation, intensity vibrato and airy hiss at different times.
Some solos are no more than repeated patterns pushed in proper order up the scale. On others, his passive, nagging presentation sounds as if its more related to showcasing classical saxophone structures than improvised music, although its almost irrefutable that all the tunes are instant compositions. Maybe one should hear his duets with Bley, who does have a degree from Julliard -- and so much else -- as preparation for his meeting with the Concertgebouwers that took place after this CD was recorded.
Maybe part of the seeming disconnect results from the fact that subtle percussionist Motion, powerful bassist Peacock and Bley first recorded together in 1963 (!), two years before the saxist was born. It may not have been meant that way -- or it may have been a deliberate compliment -- but much of the time Honing appears to be following Bleys lead, filling in the spaces left for him, and not the other way around.
Letting loose only seems to occur to the saxist when the bassist adopts a steady -- and standard -- quicker 4/4 pattern on one piece and on the final piece when Bley unveils some this-side-of-prepared piano solos. Facing off against a conception thats all metallic chord substitutions, internal string mutes and reverberating tones, Honing responds with deeper, more virile playing, though it must be admitted that its still pretty deliberate sounding.
Coming from a different time and place, the Iyer four are nothing but exuberant, with drummer Derrek Phillips, who regularly works with alto saxophonist Greg Osby, alone expending more energy on the first number that Motian seems to have done during the entire other CD. Each quartet member seems to have chops to burn, but because they labor as a working group, that sense of disengagement that is sometimes apparent in the Honing session is missing here.
One reoccurring motif is the frequent blending of tones that occurs between saxophone and keyboard. Another is that while they take most of the tunes at a breakneck pace, they dissipate the tension with slinky, slower motions for the codas.
Although Iyer, who is the son of Indian immigrants, raised in upstate New York, emphasizes his South Asian roots, the language of jazz is paramount here. Configurations, for instance, which is supposed to reflect rhythmic progressions from that subcontinent, appears to take more from a Spanish tinge and McCoy Tyners modal work. Father Spirit, on the other hand, features Iyer playing what sounds like quirky Herbie Nichols-like lines, with Mahanthappa interjecting gingerly, one phrase at a time. The aviary-like reverberating arcs the saxist uses here are effective, as is most of his playing, except for the few times when for some reason, he adopts a pinched, adenoidal tone.
Iyers note-spinning, speedy vamps that appear from either his left or right hand also serve him well throughout the disc. Especially if the saxophonist, who made a reputation for himself in Chicago before moving to New York, really digs into the music, or Phillips starts to imagine himself as Elvin Jones, and begins overplaying his hands.
The only time this technique isnt completely accurate is with Circular Argument, conceived of as a Monk tribute. Almost a parody of what a swinging nightclub tickler would have played in the 1930s, Iyer is too much the modern, educated pianist and the band too wedded to straightahead swinging to reflect Monks individuality. Plus here and on the next piece the saxophonist shows that hes much happier spewing out sheets of sound than subordinating himself, as Rouse did to Monks vision.
Bassist Stephen Crump, who usually works with drummer Bobby Previte, is the only musician who suffers almost silently here. Frequently kept in the background by the sheer volume of the others -- especially Phillips -- his few solos reveal a strong, but rather prosaic timekeeper.
In short, these CDs prove that in the right hands -- and feet and mouths -- sax-and-rhythm quartet sessions are still a viable option for many musicians, with Iyers more focused effort having a slight edge. If neither of them move into the winners circle of memorable dates produced by Coltrane, Murray or even Stan Getz or Zoot Sims, both leaders are still young enough to likely appear with great sessions in the near future.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Seven: 1.One note out 2.Yasutani 3.Hells Kitchen 4. Bley Away 5. Lost Virginity 6. Once is Twice 7. Vertical
Personnel: Seven: Yuri Honing (tenor saxophone); Paul Bley (piano); Gary Peacock (bass); Paul Motian (drums)
Track Listing: Panoptic: 1. Invocation 2. Configurations 3. One Thousand and One 4. History is Alive 5. Father Spirit 6. Atlantean Tropes 7. Numbers (for Mumia) 8. Trident: 2001 9. Circular Argument 10. Invariants 11. Mountains
Personnel: Panoptic: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Stephan Crump (bass); Derrek Phillips (drums)
April 12, 2002
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)
August 27, 2001