I usually only use this blog to report on what I’m up to, and I’ve never sat down and written about what another musician means to me before, but the news of Paul Motian’s death yesterday has made me want to do so. There are very few musicians who I don’t know personally who have been as important in my life as Paul Motian.
I have never met Paul Motian, and never heard him live. But I have listened so much to his records, transcribed and played his tunes, and been constantly inspired by his music and approach. I’m pretty sure he appears on a higher percentage of my record collection than anyone else… Here are a few thoughts on what I love about his music:
The tunes. I’ve always loved his writing, since first discovering the Lovano / Frisell trio in my teens. ‘Dance’ and ‘Folk Song for Rosie’ were the first I fell for. A couple of years ago I started a project of transcribing several of them, to get a better understanding of how they work (and also because I wanted to play them with my quartet). That process was one of the most important things I’ve done in my musical development. Paul Motian was one of the truly great jazz composers, someone with a completely personal and unique voice who with a short, often simple melody and a hint of implied harmony could create a complete world. Like with his drumming, the things that aren’t there (or that are subtly hinted at) are as important as the things that are. I’ve mostly stopped playing his tunes as I wanted to focus more on writing my own, but still can’t resist including ‘Abacus’ in the book.
Everyone who ever played with Paul Motian sounded better with him than they did without him. I can’t think of an exception to that rule!
It got better and better. The last few years have seen some of the heaviest Paul Motian records, and his playing pared down to an ever deeper core. There are very few musical greats who have continued to develop and go further every year – there are no Paul Motian records or projects that feel like easy or commercial choices.
Paul Motian’s musical vision and personality were so strong that you can be listening to a pianist playing an unaccompanied introduction to a standard on one of his records, and it is still unmistakably Paul Motian music. He didn’t need to touch the drums or write the tune to make that happen!
Always completely open and free, while always swinging as heavily as anyone.
There are lots of tributes and obituaries around, a few that I found moving are here:
Got news of a few recent recordings that look like coming out…
The first Catatumbo album should be on it’s way this October, coming out on Babel. Catatumbo is the trio of Ingrid Laubrock, Javier Carmona and me. Alex Bonney did a great job of recording us at the Vortex on our tour last November, and that some of that recording will be coming out on LP, CDR and digital download pretty soon. You can hear a bit of the concert (that won’t be on the album) on the ‘listen’ page of this website. We’re looking at touring April next year, details on here as they materialise…
The recording Mikolaj Trzaska, Mark Sanders and I did last May seems to have found a home as well – should be coming out on No Business sometime next year. Another live recording, this time recorded by Chris Trent, in Birmingham.
And finally, the Nick Malcolm Quartet (with Alexander Hawkins and Mark Whitlam) did a couple of days recording recently. We had a lot of fun, and again Alex Bonney got a great sound. Hopefully that’ll be mixed and on its way to labels pretty soon!
I’ve recently started playing again with Dave Birchall (guitar) and Phillip Marks (drums). I used to play a lot with both of them separately when I first started gigging, with Dave in a folk/post-rock/improv band called ‘Our Beautiful Ridiculous Plan’ and with Phil in various jazz and improv settings. The two musicians I played with most frequently when I lived in Manchester, but last week was the first time we’d done anything together. Anyway, its great to be working with them again, looking forward to developing the project.
Here’s a couple of zoom recordings of our recent jam:
I’ve been really enjoying playing in Nick Malcolm’s quartet the past few months. The band is Nick on trumpet and flugelhorn, Alexander Hawkins on piano and Mark Whitlam on drums. The material is orginals by Nick, a couple by me, and the odd Monk tune. A real blend of free playing, structures and more melodic material.
We’ve got a few nice gigs coming up; The Vortex next Monday (11/07/11), and then Manchester (25/07/11) and Ealing (31/07/11) Jazz Festivals.
We’ll be recording an album in August, details on here when it’s ready for release…
I’ve posted a couple of tracks on the ‘listen’ page of this website from a recent gig by the new Olie Brice Quartet. They’re not very hi-fi, and Leon is on Rhodes in the absence of piano, but I think they capture some of what we’re trying to do all the same.
If your appetite is whetted and you want to hear the real thing, we’ll be at the Vortex on October 11th.
Looking forward to a tour starting this tuesday, with Mikolaj Trzaska on alto sax and clarinets, and Mark Sanders on drums.
Mikolaj is a fantastic player, works with the likes of Peter Brotzmann and Ken Vandermark. Anyone reading this is bound to know Mark’s playing! We did some playing as a quartet with Steve Swell (on trombone) about a year ago – which was great, so I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun this time round. Here’s the details:
24/05/11- Krakow, Alchemia
25/05/11 – Lodz, Jazzga
26/05/11 – Dublin, Centre for Creative Practices, 15 Pembroke Street
27/05/11 – Birmingham, The Station, Kings Heath
28/05/11 – London, Cafe Posk
29/05/11 – Newcastle, The Bridge Hotel
Edit after the tour – We had a great time! There’s a nice review here: