Paul Motian

Old & New Masters

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Paul Motian recorded 15 albums for Manfred Eicher's ECM label. Toward the end of his life he became almost synonymous with it, though he recorded for other labels too. The six albums included in the ECM New and Old Masters box are his first as a leader and document some of his earliest recorded compositions. As Ethan Iverson's wonderfully detailed liner essay makes plain, Motian didn't begin composing until he was past the age of 40. He began on a piano he acquired from Keith Jarrett -- whose band he was playing in at the time -- while studying formally. Eicher, who spent a great deal of time with Motian because of his relationship with Jarrett, was among the first to hear his unique, cleanly written works, and recorded him during his first 12 years of development as a composer and bandleader. Conception Vessel, from 1972, features Jarrett, violinist Leroy Jenkins, guitarist Sam Brown, flutist Becky Friend, and Charlie Haden. Tribute, from 1974, retains only Brown and Haden. The additional personnel are guitarist Paul Metzke and saxophonist Carlos Ward. These first two recordings are the most free, and their compositional frameworks are the sparest, but they are confident, and contain many gems -- the title track from the former album in particular, as well as readings of Ornette Coleman's "War Orphans" and Haden's "Song for Che," and Motian's own "Sod House." They also contain the seed of the writing that would express itself consistently from the '80s onward. The middle two recordings in this set, 1977's Dance and 1979's Le Voyage, are trio dates. Both feature vanguard saxophonist Charles Brackeen (and include some of his finest recorded performances) and two different bassists, former Coleman alum David Izenzon and the great French player Jean-François Jenny-Clark. Motian's melodies on these two records are more firmly stated, and are also spun out more intently in conversation with his collaborators. Note "Kalypso" and "Prelude" from Dance, and "Folk Song for Rosie" and "The Sunflower" from Le Voyage. The final two recordings, Psalm from 1981, and It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago circa 1984, feature the beginnings of Motian's extended, intimate partnerships with guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Psalm also included saxophonist Billy Drewes and bassist Ed Schuller, while the final date was simply that trio. Motian also recorded the stellar albums Story of Maryam and Jack of Clubs for Soul Note with these men and others in 1984. But it's the two ECM dates that reveal the full flower of his compositional gift, and his canny ability to nurture younger players to reach beyond themselves. This entry in the Old & New Masters Series is not only a terrific reminder of where Motian had been during this period, but reveals an artist in the second half of his career beginning again and becoming one of the most influential forces in late 20th century and early 21st century jazz.

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