Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paul Motian Trio 3 in 1 - Live at the Village Vanguard (performance)

This was my third time seeing the 70-something year-old drummer Paul Motian, each time with a different trio. First time was with Joe Lovano (tenor) and Bill Frisell (guitar), a long-standing group with several recordings and at least one run at the Village Vanguard each year. Then it was Motian and Frisell with bass giant Ron Carter. This time it was a relatively new group with Jason Moran (piano) and Chris Potter (tenor), each about 40 years younger than Motian. Their first album was supposed to be recorded during this run at the Vanguard, but I didn't see any recording equipment at this set. In any case, I hope the recording happened - this is a record I'll be watching for.

Moran and Potter are well-established players by now, but I'd only heard one album of Moran's (his solo Modernistic) and nothing by Potter. I knew Potter had an excellent reputation, and I was curious to see what Motian would do with these young players. I also wanted to see Motian with piano - I'd never seen piano at the Vanguard and Motian's associations with Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett are historical stuff (he also played, very briefly, with Monk).

The set was a good mix of up-tempo tunes and slow, ballad-y/atmospheric tunes. Most were probably Motian compositions, but there was at least one standard, which I'm fairly sure was Cole Porter's "Let's Fall in Love" (it was Valentine's Day). Motian seemed to do more straightforward (by his standards) swinging that I've seen him do previously*. Potter handled everything effortlessly, shifting with apparent ease from fiery to lyrical, soft to loud. Some of the best moments involved the interplay between Motian and Moran. At one point late in the set, Motian broke into a hard swinging tempo, pushing Moran, who seemed to be slowly stepping on the gas, heating up into a series of wild right-hand improvisations. The fast stuff was exciting. The slow stuff was beautiful. A very satisfying set.

A good recent interview with Paul Motian can be found here.

*As has been often noted, Paul Motian's approach to the drums goes way beyond time-keeping and the effect can be a bit jarring if you come in with preconceived notions of jazz drumming or if your only reference point is his playing with Bill Evans. Plenty of drummers have explored different approaches to rhythm, but I don't think anybody is doing quite what Motian is doing. It's certainly not bombastic, but it's definitely exploratory - he's not falling back on set patterns but seems to be constantly trying to find new ones. As a listener, you become used to certain conventions even when you're not consciously aware of them. Then, when someone tweaks those conventions you're forced to adjust and to really listen.

With Lovano and Frisell, perhaps because of their long association, Motian seems to get into his most exploratory mode, leading that trio to create some real equilateral 3-sided improvisation. When I saw the Motian-Frisell-Carter trio, made up of three "rhythm section" instruments, Ron Carter's bass was often the most traditionally rhythmic element of the music. On Valentine's Day at the Vanguard, Moran's left hand and Motian's drums often seemed to be working in combination to form the rhythmic basis of the trio's music.

No comments: