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Published: 2006/07/19
by Pat Buzby

On Broadway, vol. 4 or the Paradox of Continuity – Paul Motian Trio 2000 + One

Few of the people lucky enough to have heard the Bill Evans Trio in 1961 would have been able to predict where drummer Paul Motian would be 45 years later. Mild-mannered in that trio with the celebrated pianist and the brilliant, doomed bassist, Motian has let the more eccentric aspects of his style grow to dominate his playing, and has shaped his groups into entities as individual as he is. He is to bebop musicians what Tom Waits is to post-Dylan singer-songwriters.

Part of a two-year flood of Motian CDs which includes outings from his sax-guitar-drums trio and his two-saxes-three-guitars septet, On Broadway is relatively conservative in lineup and material. Motian’s trio, here consisting of saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Larry Grenadier, takes on an all-Broadway program, joined alternatively by pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and vocalist Rebecca Martin. However, those who know Motian will be prepared for the unexpected.

This disc is two CDs in one. When Martin is present, the agenda is dry standards. As in all recent Motian recordings, one focus is his rough, halting brush strokes, his impulsive cymbal swells and rare but jabbing snare hits. Add Martin’s behind-the-beat, undemonstrative vocals, Potter’s angular sax and Grenadier’s bare-bones bass, and whatever silliness may have once been present in songs like “Tea For Two” disappears from the picture.

Meanwhile, the pieces featuring Kikuchi, aside from the relatively straightforward “Last Dance” opener, let only traces of the melodies appear in a set of free-floating improvs. (Two consecutive versions of “Never Let Me Go” have little in common.) Kikuchi has a gift for strategic silence and the simple, perfectly timed dissonance (although his vocal noises are an unfortunate bonus) and Potter gets more room to slice into these familiar melodies and changes.

Which Paradox of Continuity does Motian have in mind? The phrase could apply to his ability to maintain a pulse despite his stop-and-start drumming strategies. It’s also relevant when one considers that these old songs, with their celebrations of calm and monogamy, fit in the hands of so many different interpreters, while later songs promoting political and sexual revolution are difficult to wrest from the bands who first offered them.

Whatever the “paradox” might be, Motian’s music and concepts take away some of the comfort listeners might expect from these songs, but make up the difference in food for thought.

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