Paul Motian: Sound in Motian
It was during his tenure with Jarrett that Motian would truly develop the nascent qualities that today characterize his music. The pianist's interest in "world music allowed the drummer to interpolate the Middle Eastern sounds and rhythms he heard growing up into his textural colorist style of percussion, as can well be heard in the quartet's recordings, particularly Survivor's Suite. Jarrett also played an instrumental role in Motian's development as a composer. He remembers, "I had bought Keith's grand piano, which he had had since he was like four or five years oldhe sold it to me really, really cheapand then I started taking piano lessons and composition lessons and that sort of got me started. Next, Jarrett's European producer, Manfred Eicher, offered Motian the opportunity to present his own compositions on a record date for ECM. The debut Conception Vessel revealed the drummer's exceptional writing aptitude and between 1972 and 1984 he recorded a half a dozen excellent records for the label, culminating with It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago, featuring two then practically unheard of sidemen: guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano.
The Motian-Lovano-Frisell trio has remained together for 21 years, recording a remarkable series of albums (including tributes to Evans, Monk and Tin Pan Alley) for a variety of different labels. This year the band returned to ECM with I Have The Room Above Her. "There are eight tunes of mine on there that are brand new tunes, the leader proudly proclaims. "That came about because I was home all that time, he says referring to his recent retirement from touring. "That plus I knew that I was doing a record, so that also got me off my ass to write some stuff.
Motian describes his compositional style as such: "What I do is, I'll sit at the piano and I'll fool around for a while until I get something that'll make sense to me, like maybe a short melody, a few notes that come together and kind of build on that. The way it works with Lovano and Frisell, I would get together with them after I had something down and we would rehearse it and play it and it would come together like that. I guess that's how it happens. I don't hear a tune all together. It kind of comes together bit by bit.
He goes through a similar process with another one of his distinctive groups, the Electric BeBop Band. "Yeah, he says, "I'll bring in a lead sheet, give a lead sheet to everybody and then I arrange it. When we play it, then I kind of arrange it, like I'll say okay, we should do it like this: we should play the head, everyone should play and then we'll play it like this, maybe two people will do a duet... These days I don't hardly ever rehearse, he says. "At one time I did rehearse. I was rehearsing early on when I first put the Bebop Band together and I ran into Ornette Coleman on 72nd Street and Broadway and he asked me how I was doing, what I was doing and I said 'Man, I just came back from a rehearsal with the Electric BeBop Band.' I said, 'We're playing bebop tunes and we're playing everything and I had everything, prepared everything in unison' and he said, 'All music is in unison.' I said 'Oh great man (laughing).' I felt really good that I was on the right track.
Motian has remained on the right track with the Electric BeBop Band, a group that originally included the virtually unknown Kurt Rosenwinkel and Joshua Redman, which he says he put together to "destroy bebop. "I wanted to play bebop badly, he laughs. "I wanted to get people that really didn't know it and would play it badly, but it really didn't work out that way... All our stuff keeps growing, mankeeps getting better and better. Since I've added my own music to it... The latest recording we've done hasn't even been mixed yet and that's the one with the three guitarsJakob Bro, Steve Cardenas and Ben Monder; two saxophonesTony Malaby and Chris Cheekand Jerome Harris on bass. And we did it on ECM; the first Electric BeBop Band record that we did on ECM. And we did some of my tunes and I wrote some tunes and then we did some other songs that I don't usually do. I tried to find some thingswe did "Pithecanthropus Erectus by Mingus...we did a Monk tune ["Evidence ]. It's a little different, I think.