Paul Motian

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The very antithesis of the power drummer, Paul Motian, revered for his work with Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett as well as his own prodigious work as a leader, turns 75 this year. Duncan Heining looks back with Motian over the highs and lows of his remarkable musical career. Paul MotianMax Roach, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey and then Elvin Jones. These were the premier jazz drum stylists who led the way from bop to hard bop and beyond. But there’s at least one name missing from this list, altogether quieter perhaps but just as influential – Paul Motian.
The American celebrates his seventy-fifth birthday this March with the release of Garden of Eden on ECM. Credited this time to the Paul Motian Band, as opposed to The Electric Bebop Band, it still features guitars, saxes, bass and drums and has that fractured urgency that EBB records have always had. So, what’s in a name Paul?
"Well, it’s mostly my compositions. We started out just playing bebop. Little by little, I started introducing my own music into the gigs and recordings, until this last one which is mostly original compositions. So, the record company thought it would be a good idea, if we just called it the Paul Motian Band."
For Paul, it’s no big deal and he jokes that maybe he’ll change the name from night to night depending on how many bebop tunes they’re playing.
EBB opened their account in 1993 with the wonderful Paul Motian And The Electric Bebop Band (With Joshua Redman) on Winter & Winter, though the idea goes back much earlier though a different concept, his 1974 album Tribute, featured two guitars.
" Years before I had an idea to do something like that and had a rehearsal in my apartment with Bill Frisell, Mike Stern and a bass player that was playing with Pat Metheny. We went over some songs and I recorded it but then I kind of forgot about it."
It was a conversation with Charlie Haden’s son Josh, an electric bassist, when Paul was touring with Charlie that brought it back to mind. "During one of the car rides I mentioned that rehearsal. Charlie’s son said, ‘Man that’s really interesting. I’d like to hear that.’"
That prompted another rehearsal, this time with Josh and guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Dave Fiuczynski. "That kind of got me to get that idea going. Charlie’s son was in California, so he couldn’t do it but I got Stomu Takeishi to play bass with Kurt and Brad Schoeppach to play guitars and we did a tour. That started it and when I got the chance to record, I added Joshua Redman on saxes."