Motian Sickness: The Music of Paul Motian – For the Love of Sarah – Grizzley Music [self-released], 58:04 [3/23/12] ****:
(Jeff Cosgrove – drums, producer; John Hébert – bass; Mat Maneri – viola; Jamie Masefield – mandolin)
Fortunately, when drummer Paul Motian passed away in November, 2011, we did not lose his music. Some people know Motian for his tenure with pianist Bill Evans, from1959 through 1964; or with Keith Jarrett, from 1967 to 1976. But for discerning fans, Motian will be remembered also as a composer and band leader: he issued close to 40 solo recordings on various labels; worked with Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden and others; and much of Motian’s material has been, and continues to be, performed on stage and in studios.
In Spring, 2012 avowed Motian adorer drummer Jeff Cosgrove, put out the debut of his long-gestating venture, Motian Sickness: The Music of Paul Motian. Cosgrove’s nearly-hour long, self-released affair is entitled For the Love of Sarah, named after a Motian tune, but also acts as an accolade to Cosgrove’s wife, Sarah. This album was not lashed together to pay respect to a departed musician: Cosgrove spent over three years laying the foundation, with Motian’s assistance and approval; the result was recorded, mixed and mastered one month before Motian passed away, but as things can happen, the outcome was not heard until after the fact. For the Love of Sarah is available as a CD or as a digital download. The digital edition, which can also be streamed, has 2 extra tracks. This review refers to the compact disc version.
Cosgrove utilizes an unusual format to reconfigure Motian’s material: it is an uncommon strings and drums combination, with bassist John Hébert, violist Mat Maneri and mandolin player Jamie Masefield. It is an atypical gambit, but provides a new vista to Motian’s music. Cosgrove comes from eastern West Virginia, where there is a lot of bluegrass music, and he explains, “The warmth of that sound is really attractive to me. I had always wanted to play freer jazz with that warm sound.” Finding the right personnel to carry Cosgrove’s idea into fruition was fortuitous. Masefield founded the Jazz Mandolin Project, and was formerly in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. His background and experience was integral. Hébert has a wide-ranging career footprint, from solo excursions to being part of Mary Halvorson’s and Uri Caine’s groups, and previously reimagined classical composer/conductor George Enescu’s music in a jazz setting. Mat Maneri has been active in the avant-garde/free jazz scene since the early 1980s, was in the Joe Morris Quartet and the David S. Ware String Ensemble, but more significantly was involved in Paul Motian’s group; he’s also no stranger to Motian tributes: he participated in the Joel Harrison String Choir’s homage, The Music of Paul Motian.
Motian’s compositional style often focused on emotionalism and flexibility: there is a vital poignant quality and liberal use of space. To Motian, it was the melody which was foremost. Cosgrove admits Motian once stated, “the phrase is the most important thing…I don’t care how the cats play the time, but the phrase is everything.” As a drummer, Cosgrove fittingly emphasizes Motian’s rhythmic dynamics. The opener, “Dance,” is restless and nervous. The bass, drums and strings show an articulate freedom, with spouts of dissonance: Maneri’s higher-toned viola takes the place of a horn, and Masefield adds bass lines on mandolin, as Hébert traverses free-jazz terrain. “Mumbo Jumbo” has a somewhat more elegiac edge, but maintains a thoroughly progressive outlook with its clipped, staccato mandolin and bass timbres, while Maneri supplies a melancholy resonance on viola.
Several pieces are evocatively pictographic. On “Arabesque,” Cosgrove fluently replicates Motian’s deft brushwork, and recreates how Motian would use cymbals like a painter puts colors on canvas. Here, the music is stretched to 13 minutes, and reverberates with ethereal interludes from each participant: Maneri employs a dark-hued jazz voicing, and Masefield perpetuates a relaxed and slightly spirited swing on mandolin. Another number which also has a meditative mannerism, an almost subliminal inclination, is “Conception Vessel,” suffused with understatement, with a touching main theme. The mandolin, bass and viola demonstrate Motian’s deep lyricism; and Masefield reiterates the poetic fluidity which Frisell earlier brought to this tune, when Frisell was in Motian’s quintet.
For the Love of Sarah closes with three cuts which display Motian’s musical width. The title track, which has an effective folk demeanor, stands out for being so individualistic and upbeat: this is not a treacle-tinted track, but rather provides a three-dimensional portrait of a soul mate. Hébert has a notable bass solo, while Masefield supports an optimistic affectation with his plucked notes. The dramatic “The Owl of Cranston” features heightened harmonics, where Cosgrove shimmers on cymbals and the strings engage one another with intensified yet unwound concentration, sometimes movingly proceeding through the melody and at other times shifting away from pre-arrangement. The record concludes with “One Time Out,” which has a muscular deliberation, with splatters of sound which erupt along the piece’s length: wiry discord takes root and stays the course.
Engineer/mixer Max Ross presents a nuanced sound spectrum. The bass, mandolin, percussion and viola are finely rendered: he has captured each musician’s subtlest detail, which is an important consideration because the music centers on strings and discreet rhythmic backdrops. Hopefully, more will be heard from Cosgrove, since there is a well-spring of Motian compositions which could be re-evaluated. Meanwhile, Cosgrove has been doing live shows with a different line-up, bringing Motian’s music to assorted venues. While Cosgrove has the East Coast covered, out on the West Coast, another tribute group, Los Angeles trio Perpetual Motian (drummer Alan Cook; saxophonist Alexander Vogel; and guitarist Derek Bomback) has brought Motian’s music to Southern California: with any luck, they will tape some of their interpretations and get them distributed them, as well.
TrackList: Dance; Conception Vessel; The Storyteller; From Time to Time; The Story of Maryam; Mumbo Jumbo; Arabesque; For the Love of Sarah; The Owl of Cranston; One Time Out.
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