“The Picasso of jazz drummers, Paul Motian reveals his mastery in sly and disorienting ways,” wrote Michael Parillo in Modern Drummer magazine, of the recent ECM trio release “I Have The Room Above Her”. “Garden of Eden” offers yet more angles from which to apprehend Motian’s uniquely personal approaches to music making.
Recorded in New York in 2004, “Garden of Eden” is the first ECM album by the group previously known as the Paul Motian Electric Bebop Band, the name-change reflecting a modified artistic agenda. Bebop and bebop-influenced material remain a significant part of the group’s palette but increasingly Motian’s own material is a priority, and it is sensitively illuminated by Paul’s “personal orchestra”, the guitars (three of them now) and saxes group he formed at the beginning of the 1990s.
In a period when the mood of jazz was resolutely nostalgic-conservative, with freer improvising routinely dismissed in the press, Motian’s original impulse was, in his words, to “destroy bebop”. This intention was short-lived. He’d grown up with bebop: it was his first love and, in returning to it, it was quickly clear that one didn’t have to adopt the jazz equivalent of “historical performance practise” when playing it. “There were no rules.” Motian’s instrumentation, first of all, transformed the dynamic of the idiom – small group bebop with two tenors is rare enough, two tenors plus two (or three) electric guitars unprecedented. Dispensing with the piano in a music that was often piano-driven, furthermore, opened up the space in which these players could interact. Challenging his soloists to play as freely inside the song structures as he does, while retaining an emphasis on melody, Motian made the music new. The New York Times, reviewing the band in concert wrote, “The group found gauzy, evenly distributed sound, hazy and beautiful. It starts with Mr Motian himself, whose playing breathes marvellously: each beat is phrased differently from the last, and there’s as much implied as there is played.” As the band has progressed deeper into the sound world of Motian’s own tunes its blended textures have become both richer and wilder, its music swirling, kaleidoscopic, full of blossoming melody.
(Even as the music moves into the future, however, it carries echoes of Motian’s past, for on “Tribute”, his second ECM disc in 1974, he was already featuring twinned lead guitars. He was just beginning to find his direction as a composer, encouraged by producer Manfred Eicher, and also by Keith Jarrett of whose ‘American Quartet’ he was then also a member.)
The jazz repertoire material here includes two Charles Mingus tunes which open the performance: “Pithecanthropus Erectus”, Mingus’s cinematic account of the rise and fall of man (played very ‘noir’ by the Motian group), and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” the famous and heartfelt tribute to Lester Young, allegedly composed onstage at the Half Note Café in March 1959, when Mingus learned that the great tenorist had just died.
Jerome Kern’s “Bill” is from the 1927 musical “Show Boat”, (and in its original version contained lyrics by novelist P.G. Wodehouse). Closing this show are two more evergreens, Thelonious Monk’s classic “Evidence” which Motian played with its composer back in the 1950s, and Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl”, one of the pieces that first defined bebop for the world.
Motian’s group concept and enlightened leadership has drawn an impressive cast of players to him, and earlier editions of the Electric Bebop Band included saxophonists Joshua Redman and Chris Potter, guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Wolfgang Muthspiel, and bassist Steve Swallow. The current line-up is particularly strong – every group member is also a bandleader in his own right, and the players are in and out of each other’s groups with swinging abandon.
The range of musical identities within the Motian ensemble is well-displayed in Manfred Eicher’s audio panorama: Steve Cardenas and Jakob Bro stalk the left and right perimeters of the stereo picture, while Ben Monder hews to the centre, as does Jerome Harris. Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek are, respectively, centre left and centre right. Motian’s detailed drums and cymbals are everywhere, embellishing solo statements and driving the ensemble forward in his stubborn, unpredictable way.
Tony Malaby was named Musician of the Year 2004 by All About Jazz: “his mastery of tonal nuance integrates subtle turns of sound into long, swinging lines,” and both Malaby and fellow tenorist Chris Cheek are in the frontline of Charlie Haden’s revived Liberation Music Orchestra. Ben Ratliff has described Cheek’s solos as “sleek and pinpointed.” Malaby’s signature on the other hand is a sort of muscular lyricism that “elbows its way into the room.”
Originally from Tuscon, Arizona, Malaby’s been based in New York for the last decade, playing in bands led by Mark Helias, Fred Hersch, Mat Maneri, Tim Berne, Marty Ehrlich and others. Motian’s championing of Malaby extends also to playing drums in Tony’s trio.
Chris Cheek studied in Boston and headed for New York in 1992 soon splitting his time between Motian’s group and ‘grunge-jazz’ band the Bloomdaddies. Albums under his own name on the Spanish Fresh Sound label have featured Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel and others. A strong jazz composer as well as a soloist of distinction, he contributes the piece “Desert Dream” to the present disc.
Guitarist Steve Cardenas, author of “Balata ”co-leads a quartet with Cheek, and has included Malaby in his own recordings (the net of inter-relationships is complex) grew up in the competitive Kansas City milieu that hatched Pat Metheny, and was an important contributor to the Californian jazz scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He, too, plays in Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. He has also worked with Slide Hampton, Eddie Harris, Jay MacShan, Marc Johnson, Norah Jones and many others. He is also the co-editor of the recently published “Thelonious Monk Fakebook”.
The interests of Ben Monder, born in New York’s Westchester County, span ambient music, contemporary composition (he’s instanced Schnittke’s “Psalms of Repentance” as an influence) – Indian music and rock, as well as jazz. His own group, including Meredith Monk Ensemble vocalist Theo Bleckmann, has been widely praised. Jazz Times recently credited Monder with ‘some of the most original musical thinking of the present age.’ His voicings and lines have been described, by pianist Frank Kimbrough, as “ethereal, dark and mysterious.”
Youngest band member is 27 year old guitarist Jakob Bro, a Dane who loyally commutes to New York from Copenhagen whenever Paul Motian has a gig. Bro joined the band in 2002, on the recommendation of Steve Cardenas. He remains active on the Danish alternative jazz scene playing with colourfully named bands including I Got You On Tape, Bandapart and Beautiful Day, the latter playing originally material “inspired by Monk, Motian and Radiohead”. Jakob Bro has two albums as a leader thus far, both with Danish/American line-ups including Chris Cheek.
With his own background as a guitar player, bassist Jerome Harris is uniquely placed to interact with these individual guitar voices... and with Motian’s wayward rhythmic displacements. Harris is probably best known for his extensive work (both as bassist and guitarist) with Sonny Rollins, but has played in wide-ranging contexts, and has previously recorded for ECM with Bill Frisell (on “Rambler”, with Paul Motian on drums) and Jack DeJohnette (“Oneness”).
Paul Motian, born 1931 in Philadelphia, is of course a history maker, a player who has on several occasions helped to shift the direction of jazz. With the trios of Bill Evans, Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett (and with Jarrett’s American Quartet), his independent sense of rhythm took jazz to new places.
Motian’s ECM leader discography includes such essential recordings as “Conception Vessel”, “Tribute”, “Dance”, “Le Voyage”, “Psalm”, “It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago” and the recent, universally-acclaimed “I Have The Room Above Her”, as well as his “Selected Recordings” anthology. Other ECM showings include discs with Keith Jarrett (“The Survivors’ Suite”, “Eyes Of The Heart”. “At The Deer Head Inn”), Paul Bley (“Paul Bley with Gary Peacock”, “Fragments”, “The Paul Bley Quartet”, “Not Two, Not One”), and Marilyn Crispell (“Nothing Ever Was, Anyway”, “Amaryllis”, “Storyteller”). In 2005 in addition to his own “I have The Room Above Her” (featuring Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano), the drummer appeared on two other important albums, Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson’s “Goodbye”, and “Tati”, a reunion with Enrico Rava (Paul and Enrico had played together in Steve Lacy’s band in the early 1960s and on Carla Bley’s “Escalator Over The Hill” in 1970).