Give Paul Motian a break for deciding to cease touring in favor of occasional appearances in New York City. After all, the man has spent his adult life on the road, lending his cascading and earthy tones to the likes of Bill Evans, Paul Bley, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, The Electric Bebop Band, and so many others.
Motian doesn’t keep everyday time. Although he might lunge into the standard jazz ride rhythm, he’s more apt to suggest the pulse in other ways, breaking it up between his ancient Zildjian sizzle and his drumkit. Where others might fill, he’ll let one note linger. Although he’s clearly in no hurry to fill up space, his latest ECM release, Garden Of Eden, reveals that he can solo splendidly. He’s been refining his wizardry since he took up with Bill Evans forty-five years ago. As it turns out, Motian left the famous trio for fear it was becoming a cocktail act. “I felt as if I was playing on pillows,” he quips. “It was becoming that quiet.”
In March of this year, a week before his seventy-fifth birthday, Motian appeared live with pianist Bobo Stensen, with whom he recorded Goodbye (ECM). The lights at Birdland dimmed and Paul began poking at his old Paiste 602 Dark ride, sometimes extending his arm so that he could strike north of the bell. He’d find a sweet spot and caress it. Occasionally he’d let out a wide grin. Maybe he was delighted at discovering an elusive sound. Maybe he was happy at a direction Stensen had taken. He’s not telling.
“A lot of people,” Motian complains, “ask why I do something, as if there was a lot of forethought behind it. No, man, this shit is an accident. Kenny Clarke didn’t plan on being ‘the father of bebop drums.’ It just happened because the tempo was so fast that all he could do was play accents on the bass drum!”
Motian, who rarely works with charts, relishes happy accidents. They keep him young, nimble–and edgy.
T. Bruce Wittet