Master drummer, composer, and bandleader Paul Motian's volume in ECM's fine Rarum series is a tough one to reconcile. It's not that it is in any way disappointing -- far from it. It's more a case of what to choose and how an artist's choices are made when there is so much material to choose from. Motian has played as a sideman and as a leader for the label since he was first approached by Manfred Eicher in 1972. The nine tunes here range from that year's Conception Vessel, his debut album as a leader with Keith Jarrett, to a 1985 Paul Bley Quartet date on which he guested along with Bill Frisell and John Surman. While Motian did appear on the ECM label during the 1990s, none of that material was chosen. The 13 years that are reflected here are rich in not only musical diversity but cultural acumen. The album kicks off with "One in Four," a Motian tune on the Bley album. It is an ethereal, open piece that is speculative yet focused on playing the spaces inside rhythmic and harmonic structures. The beautiful title track from 1977's Dance, with saxophonist Charles Brackeen and the late bassist David Izenzon, is one of the great showcases of Motian as a skittering, shape-shifting force in the body of a tune; whether he is highlighting the legato phrases in the melody by Brackeen or underlining Izenzon's hyperkinetic bass ideas, Motian is the bridge and the voice. Perhaps the most beautiful piece here is the title track from It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago, issued in 1984. Here Motian surrounded himself with two players from a band that recorded a pair of albums for Soul Note: Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Given the sheer ethereal nature of the melody, Motian and Frisell are so tender and haunting that they literally sing as they play though and whisper around Lovano's line. The album closes with two selections from the Motian date Psalm in 1981, recorded with Frisell, Lovano, bassist Ed Schuller, and alto saxophonist Billy Drewes. These pieces flow with delight, warmth, and celebration. They are mirror images of one another and share the notion of an ensemble not comprised of soloists but of compadres, exploring the beauty of structured harmonics and lyrical notions. This is a beautiful disc, but one that would have been no matter what was chosen -- so great is the wealth of its namesake's catalog.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
feat: Keith Jarrett