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Paul Motian Selected Recordings Review

Compilation. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Drummer/composer Motian gets the :rarum treatment with this beautifully assembled...

Peter Marsh 2003

Unlike some of the musicians who've been the subject of ECM's :rarum collections, Paul Motian's output for the label doesn't really provide any definite overview of his career, which has taken in stints with Keith Jarrett, Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans, Paul Bley and, er, Arlo Guthrie. In Motian's case you'd probably need a box set (at the very least) for that job.

It was ECM's Manfred Eicher who persuaded the drummer to try his hand at composition, and this set documents his various outings as bandleader. Through his debut for the label featured Jarrett, subsequent albums were piano-less. Maybe this was a consequence of a desire to break away from his associations with great ivory tinklers (see above); plus Motian's first instrument was the guitar, which may explain his adoption of players like the underrated Paul Metzke and the overrated Bill Frisell.

Motian's writing is sparsely pretty; folky almost, with echoes of Jarrett, Ornette Coleman and Monk. His melodies sidle up to you and breathe gently in your ear, much like early Carla Bley. "Folk Song For Rosie" is a fine example, with Charles Brackeen's luscious soprano wrapping itself around Motian's gently meandering tune. In later groups Joe Lovano's blurry tenor would give the drummer's themes a magisterial weight coupled with a sly playfulness; with the longstanding trio of Frisell and Lovano, Motian's music maybe found its ideal interpreters, but the early records have a sweetly astringent feel to them.

Motian's drumming refuses to restrict itself to mere timekeeping. His slightly awkward snare figures punctuate and accelerate, shadowing the contours of the melody at every turn. Without a bass (as in the trio or the hushed melancholia of the Paul Bley group) the kit takes on melodic duties too, as Motian restricts himself to occasional, hushed cymbal caresses or faint wisps of brushed snare.

Motian's body of work outside ECM is just as impressive, but this album is a timely reminder of the pleasures of his early music and in particular the magical, poised interplay he shared with Bley, Frisell and Lovano. A good place to start...

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