Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Paul Motian, 1931-2011

I can't begin to count the number of recordings I have that feature drummer Paul Motian, who died today at age 80, and I can't think of a disappointing one among them. Not only did he have exceptional taste about who he played with, he lifted every recording by his touch and unique sense of rhythm and colour. Several of the bands he was a member of—including Keith Jarrett's so-called American Quartet and his own trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano—are among the very best jazz groups of the past 50 years.

Despite his long, active career, I never had the chance to meet or interview him, which is a big regret. From what I've heard and read, he was an endlessly fascinating guy.

I do have a favourite memory, though, which relates to his spare style and amazing ability to determine exactly how to fit into a piece of music. In 2002, I saw him play with Marilyn Crispell in San Francisco as part of her trio. I don't have notes from the show, so I can't recall which song it was, but I remember one long, contemplative piece where his accompaniment during one passage consisted of exactly one cymbal strike... and it was perfectly placed. He watched, listened, waiting, and touched the cymbal just once. That was all that was needed, and he knew it; and he had the lack of musical ego to not go beyond that realization.

1 comment:

jamesmitges said...

Motian played an important role in freeing jazz drummers from strict time-keeping duties .. He was expert in his field, inspirational music