REINCARNATION OF A LOVE BIRD, Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band ; JMT, recorded June 1994. Motian had a way of layering his sound against the ring of electric guitars and for a while in the ’90s had bands that doubled up on them and saxophones (see Garden of Eden, below). Here’s it’s Kurt Rosenwinkel and Wolfgang Muthspiel adding sustained atmospherics and plucky bebop lines. This may be the best example of Motian’s skill at choosing and reworking jazz standards, taking them from innovators including Monk, Miles, Mingus, Bird and Gillespie. And while there’s only one Motian original, “Split Descision” performed twice, beginning and end, it illustrates how Motian, that most color-conscious drummer, was extending the moods and harmonic construction of the greats he covers. Would we have pulled this out if the man hadn’t passed? Eventually. Motian’s in our infrequent rotation list, someone we return to again and again as time rolls on.
GARDEN OF EDEN, Paul Motian Band; ECM, recorded November, 2004. We pulled this out a couple weeks back when the man was still on the planet and haven’t let go. Another example of Motian’s two-guitar,-two sax ensemble; this time with seven Motian originals of the kind that send us (the drummer also gets great contributions from his sidemen; hear Muthspiel’s “Waseenonet” from Reincarnation above, saxophonist Chris Cheek’s “Desert Dream” here. What we said before: “Paul Motian plays drums like Bill Evans played piano. Here’s it’s in support of a larger group; the tangle of guitars (Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, Jakob Bro), brother saxophones of Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby, the try-this-on-for size bass of Jerome Harris. Some Mingus, some originals from the band. But it’s Motian’s “Mesmer” that has a mesmerized. It’s like an Ornette tune at half-speed; inviting, entrancing and ultimately about the human condition.” I forgot to mention the great rework of Mingus’ “Pithecanthropus Erectus.”
MICHAEL TIPPETT DIVERTIMERNTO ON “SELINGER’S ROUND,’ LITTLE MUSIC FOR STRING ORCHESTRA, THE HEART’S ASSURANCE, CONCERTO FOR DOUBLE STRING ORCHESTRA, City of Londo Sinfonia condcuted by Richard Hickox; Chandos, recorded March, 1995. There’s a variety of music here, indicating a range not often associated with the 20th century English composer. Sure, the dancing “sprung” rhythms of the Concerto catch our off-beat ears but it’s the audible empathy for simple lives, especially heard in the Lament from “Sellinger’s Round” that sticks with us, so much that tenor John Mark Ainsley has to wrestle us back in “The Heat’s Assurance” with a display of compassion (the music ponders a woman’s suicide, inspired by poets killed in World War II) and passion lost.
APPEARING NIGHTLY,Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band; ECM, 2007. Lively, playful, wonderfully arranged music that jumps jives and gets serious all in a matter of moments. Full of respect for the tradition as well as inside jokes and running gags, the bulk of them perpetrated by trumpeter Lew Soloff. The 25 minute suite that lends the disc its title is a historical overview with the band shouting jive to accent the period feel. “Greasy Gravy” and “Bad Coffee” burns with sax and trumpet reflux (although at different tempos). Emotional highpoint: when the trombone (is it Beppe Calamosca?) blares a warning above the groove and shimmer from Bley-mates bassist Steve Swallow and Karen Mantler on organ. Did I mention Steve Swallow? Who else could play with this noisy of a band and sound like an entire section on his own?