Paul Motian Trio 2000 + 2: Live At The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (2007)

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by S. Victor Aaron

When you put the words “Paul Motian” and “Live At The Village Vanguard” together, most jazz fans can’t help but to think of of the time this legendary drummer played at that very venue one magical Sunday in June, 1961. But there were many other enchanted moments spent there by Motian, including a couple of dates in 1995 with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano (Sound Of Love and At The Village Vanguard). And now, we have a document of a gig he did there with his Trio 2000 aptly entitled Live At The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1.

Tenor saxman Chris Potter and bassist Larry Grenadier, along with Motian himself, make up the Motian-led Trio 2000. The “+ Two” are the temporary recruitment of alto sax player Greg Osby and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi to the base trio. Osby combined with Potter gives Motion a front line of horn players while the presence of Kikuchi’s piano adds a chordal instrument that adds a comping component to the overall sound.

Those who’ve followed Motian only doing his career-establishing tenure in Bill Evans’ trio might be surprised to find that most of his professional life since leaving Evans’ band in 1963 has been spent more on the adventurous side. He played briefly with Paul Bley before settling in with Keith Jarrett‘s more progressive quartet of the seventies. Somewhere in between that time he turned down the chance to replace Elvin Jones in John Coltrane’s band.

Since 1977, he has led combos of his own, giving then-unknowns Frisell and Lovano their first big breaks. And in compliance with his restless nature, his bands have taken on varying configurations; most notably the Electric Be-Bop Band, which helped to launch the careers of it’s two guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Shepik.

Ah, but, back to the present.

Motian’s current group, the Trio 2000, has been Motian’s favored vehicle for advanced expression for about the last ten years. A lean vehicle that Motian hadn’t minded adorning with some fancy options where the opportunity arises. For example, Kikuchi sat in on a date ten years ago, later released as 2000 + One. The talented pianist from Japan sits in again along with Osby in December, 2006 for Motian’s latest release discussed here.

All but one of the five pieces presented in this CD are Motion’s own compositions, and show that adventurous side, drawing from some of the more avant garde influences the leader has picked up from his rich experiences. The opening “Standard Time” sounds like anything but, with an atonal, sax-led head that Motian underpins with some brilliant flourishes free of any discernible time signature. His cymbal work matches the moves of Grenadier’s extended bass solo that follow the head until a 4/4 beat gradually emerges in time for Potter’s and Osby’s own solo turns.

Speaking of “standard,” the only one of this collection, Tadd Dameron’s “If You Can See Me Now,” opens with some beautifully contemplative piano work by Kikuchi before Potter trade Osby some rather rather tender fours. “Morrock” once again finds Motian playing “free” as the sax section blurt out a recognizable theme untethered to time, a la Ornette Coleman. Although Motian is never playing alone, he is in essence soloing underneath the other players with a great deal of subtlety and shadings.

“Last Call” is another free-flowing head followed by some blowing by Potter, Osby and some urgent improvision from Kikuchi. The closing “Olivia’s Dream” continues the same song pattern, but presents simultaneous solos by Potter and Osby.

In fact, if any criticism can be made about this album, it’s that all of the compositions that are written by Motian’s own hand are structured so identically, it’s hard to tell them apart unless you are listening closely. There’s some wonderful playing to be found throughout to be sure, but pretty much all of the ideas are pulled out of their bag of tricks by the third track. However, the record label Winter & Winter had recorded three album’s worth of material out of this Village Vanguard engagement.

One would expect that Volumes 2 and 3 will reveal more of Paul Motian’s highly developed palette.

Live At The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 is scheduled to be available stateside on September 4th.

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