"I’ve been in love with the music of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell forever", drummer Paul Motian confided, as he explained his decision to devote his latest Winter & Winter project to the works of these two brilliant pianists and composers. Friends as well as creative contemporaries, Monk and Powell were both troubled geniuses with histories of psychological instability and each was more comfortable interfacing with the piano than interacting with people. "I knew Powell and actually performed with Monk", Motian said, remembering the night in New York during the mid-1950s when drummer Art Taylor didn’t show up at the Open Door in New York and he was asked at the last minute to sit-in with Monk. "At the end of the evening I was the happiest guy in the world", Motian recalled, "because Monk, along with Bird, Bud, Dizzy and Max Roach, was one of the bebop pioneers who inspired me when I began to seriously listen to jazz as a teenager."
As two of the fundamental architects of modern jazz, Monk and Powell are renowned not only for being incomparable instrumentalists and improvisers, but also for having penned some of the most memorable music of the second half of the 20th century. "Monk’s songs might be more familiar, but Powell composed some remarkable tunes as well, like the ballad 'I’ll Keep Loving You' which is included on this CD", Motian said. "I tried to focus on music that hadn’t already been over-recorded and selected some lesser-known pieces by both of them, like Powell’s 'Blue Pearl' and Monk’s 'Boo Boo’s Birthday'", the drummer continued. "I enjoy comparing and contrasting their sounds, so we paired Powell’s 'Parisian Thoroughfare' with Monk’s 'San Francisco Holiday', for example". When asked why he chose to use his Electric Bebop Band for this project, Motian exclaimed: "The group’s name doesn’t mean I’m doing some sort of jazz-rock fusion thing! I just chose this particular instrumentation to get away from the typical piano-bass-drums trio set-up featured on so many previous recordings or performances of Monk’s and Powell’s music. All I’m doing here is playing bop with a band in which half the musicians (guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Steve Cardenas and bassist Steve Swallow) just happen to play electric instruments", he said.
The ensemble certainly succeeds in delivering a series of performances that captures the oblique eccentricities of Monk’s music and the baroque intricacies of Powell’s. Each of the CD’s nine tracks displays its own distinct dynamic, and the recording is enhanced by sextet arrangements of songs like Powell’s 'Wail' and Monk’s 'We See' on which the lines played by the two guitarists entwine with those played by the two saxophonists. At other times, the music distilled during the middle of a song to a trio of, say, Motian, Swallow and saxophonist Chris Potter with the three musicians playing both in unison and against each other. The diverse flavors of Motian’s tasteful drum work permeate the CD, whether he is providing the rhythmic pulse fueling a fiery version of Monk’s 'Little Rootie Tootie' or, as on 'Parisian Thoroughfare', when he book-ends Powell’s trademark theme with a maelstrom of percolating drum patterns and swirling cymbals.
One of the most distinguished drummers of the post-bop era, Paul Motian continues to explore and expand the melodic and rhythmic possibilities of his instrument today, much as he has since first emerging on the jazz scene of the 1950s. A leading member of the generation of modernists following Max Roach and Kenny Clarke which also includes Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, Motian helped revolutionize the art of jazz drumming by using a broad palette of timbral textures and colors to liberate the instrument from its traditional accompanist role. He awed critics and audiences alike during his landmark tenure in the legendary Bill Evans trio from 1959-1964 where he displayed a highly interactive way of playing that helped redefine group communication in jazz. Today Motian is acclaimed internationally as a drummer, bandleader, composer and recording artist.
Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Motian was raised in Providence, Rhode Island, and played guitar before first picking up the drumsticks. He performed in various high school bands until graduating in 1949 when he began playing around Providence, and later joined a group that played stock big band arrangements and toured throughout New England. Motian was attracted to bebops innovations and began playing professionally upon moving to New York in 1955 after serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. His early years in the city found him playing and/or recording with Tony Scott, Lennie Tristano, George Russell, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane (Motian turned down the opportunity to become the second drummer in Coltrane’s group, a chair eventually occupied by Rashied Ali). In addition to playing in the Evans trio with bassist Scott LaFaro, Motian also worked during the 1950s and 1960s with such diverse artists as saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Charles Lloyd and Pharoah Sanders, bassist Oscar Pettiford and pianists Paul Bley and Mose Allison, among others, and even backed singer Arlo Guthrie at the historic Woodstock Festival in 1969.
Motian began playing with pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Charlie Haden in 1966 in a trio that eventually expanded to a quartet with the addition of saxophonist Dewey Redman. This ensemble created many memorable concerts and recordings before disbanding in 1977. During the 1970s and 1980s, Motian continued to work with Haden and began his association with producer Stefan Winter and with artists including pianist Geri Allen, saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell. During the 1990s, Motian has recorded one of the most extensive discographies contained in the new Winter & Winter catalog with an eclectic series of CDs on the German label featuring his trio with Lovano and Frisell, his Electric Bebop Band and with pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and bassist Gary Peacock.
Mitchell Feldman, Prodo, Italy, June 1999
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