Monday, February 04, 2008
caught the Paul Motian Octet on Friday at Birdland and i was sort of simultaneously blown away by the music and perplexed about the ghettoization that plagues jazz. basically i tend to be drawn to jazz that's known as "avant-garde," either b/c it presents itself that way or b/c it tends to get framed that way. Cecil Taylor, whom i caught the night before, obviously would fall into that category, whereas in most people's eyes, Motian wouldn't.
it's weird, though, because in all honesty i was a hell of a lot more surprised, and maybe even impressed, by Motian's set. i'm not sure that i've ever seen a set of jazz that was more simultaneously accessible and traditionally beautiful but at the same time extremely challenging and eccentric.
the set was a mix of standards (including, i believe, a Bird tune i couldn't place; "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"--thanks to Joe for IDing that one; Monk's "Introspection"--a fave from Steve Lacy's "Straight Horn" album) and originals encompassing all different tempos and moods. the band was absolutely killer: Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on sax, Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas on guitar, Mat Maneri on viola, Thomas Morgan on double bass, Jerome Harris on acoustic bass guitar, and Motian on drums. the pairs of instruments were pretty crucial to the sound--most tunes featured one particular team, who would sort of trade fours throughout the solo sections.
the soloists were outstanding, especially Malaby, Maneri and Monder, but then again, those were the players who got me out to the gig in the first place. i guess what impressed me most (besides the intense together-ness of the arrangements) was the FEEL of the music. looking back over my notes from the performance, i consistently jotted down words like "woozy" or "liquid" or "flowing." that sort of approximates the rhythmic feel that was happening, especially on the really luminous slow numbers. if anyone has heard "Karyobin" by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, that might give you an idea of the kind of molten free time this band was getting into. this one ballad in particular--think it was a Motian original, but i'm not sure--just had this amazing free-floating feel to it, with all the instruments sort of bubbling up and smearing all over each other.
a lot of this has to do with Motian's drumming, which is SO STRANGE, not to mention mercurial. on uptempo stuff he sounds simply like a pretty wicked bebopper, who occasionally plays too loud in a way that's actually kind of awesome. when he's in ballad mode, though, things start to get really interesting. he gives up the time keeping role and just sort of bats at the rhythm, sculpting it abstractly. i was thinking how his playing on slow stuff isn't that terribly removed from early Sunny Murray in a weird way, but while Murray gives off this feeling of ghostly agitation, you get a feeling of ultrasubtle romance from Motian.
Malaby and Maneri in particular were perfect sidemen, b/c they both have really grainy, hoarse tones that blended perfectly with the kind of blurry, polyphonous feel of the band. Malaby got off a few deep, romantic solos and Maneri had one really intense exchange w/ Motian when they were sort of trading fours, except they were playing OVER one another instead of taking turns, making for a really brutal and chaotic sound. Monder got a few chances to bust out his insanely technical sci-fi runs; he made an interesting contrast with the more conventionally jazzy Cardenas.
overall, i was just sort of thinking that i need to be checking out more of what i typically think of as mainstream jazz. true that clubs like Birdland are prohibitively expensive, and maybe there aren't too many bands out there as sick as Motian's. but i just wish there were more cross-pollination w/ this stuff. like wouldn't it be amazing to see this Octet at the Vision Festival billed next to a William Parker band or something? Malaby actually plays with both musicians (as i discussed in my recent Time Out review of his great new disc, Tamarindo), so maybe the idea isn't so far-fetched. basically what i'm trying to say is that there are other places in town besides overtly experimental settings (the Stone, etc.) to hear intensely challenging jazz, and folks should try to look past the whole "mainstream"/"avant-garde" divide b/c this set spun me around more than anything i've heard in those more wild milieus for the past few years.
(p.s. - this made me really wanna investigate Motian's discography. i know i've gotta check out the Frisell/Lovano trio, but does anyone know the old or recent ECM stuff or the Soul Note stuff? some intrepid blogger needs to guide us through his recorded history post-Bill Evans.)
p.p.s. - "Skullgrid," the debut full-length from Behold... the Arctopus, continues to amaze. this might be one of the most coherent and enjoyable--not to mention insanely brutal and technical--metal albums i've ever heard. shred with PURPOSE. music you REMEMBER, not just marvel at.