Paul Motian, jazz drummer, composer and bandleader, passed away in November 2011, aged 80. He left behind him a formidable catalogue of music, spanning six decades. But it wasn’t just his skill as a drummer, performing with the likes of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Scott LeFaro, Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden and Geri Allen that left a lasting impact, it was his ability to help nurture other promising musicians, mentoring and supporting others along the way that leaves an indelible impression. I have always felt that his writing – for bands including perhaps most notably his long-lasting trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, has never quite garnered the praise it deserves. For me he was one of the most thoughtful, skillful and creative composers of his generation, his music often taking on a timeless, ethereal quality amid his post-bop inflected playing. One of the highlights of my listening life to date was to see the Motian/Lovano/Frisell trio perform live, a wonderful and memorable experience. And so it was a pleasant surprise to come across this album; “Motian in Motion”. Renowned for his successful mergers of jazz and world music, saxophonist Jean Marc Padovani pays tribute to the late drummer, performing seven Motian compositions. In 1996 at the Nimes Jazz Festival, Padovani had the pleasure of performing with Motian, and it was during a meal that a discussion between the two musicians led to them to talking about Motian’s Armenian origins. In the repertoire they were performing at the time, Motian was particularly fond of the moments of modal music largely inspired by his Occitan roots. The “Duduk”, an emblematic instrument of Armenian music came to the forefront of their conversation, and it was Padovani’s memory of this conversation that inspired him to use this instrument on this recording. This ancient double-reed flute made of apricot wood is played on this album by Didier Malherbe. Padovani takes the lead on sax, with Paul Brousseau on piano, Claude Tchamitchian on bass and Ramon Lopez on drums. “Motian in Motion” opens with one of the drummer’s strongest compositions, “Arabesque”. When a band are dedicating a whole recording to one man’s memory, it could go either way. I’m so pleased that from the first few notes, it is obvious that Padovani’s quintet are more than up to the task, performing with understanding and sensitivity, along with no short measure of assurance and skill. The duduk sounds like a cross between a muted trumpet and a soprano saxophone- a strange yet beguiling hybrid of sound. It’s an inspired choice of instrument, lending itself perfectly to Motian’s music. Padovani truly sparkles throughout the recording, and the interplay and harmonies on this first track are astonishingly good. The whole band appears to be in the zone – every one of the five musicians bringing a living warmth and respect to the music being performed. “The Sunflower” evokes memories of Motian at his percussive and textural best, whilst “Look To The Black Wall” offers up some feverishly striking interplay from the quintet. When I first saw that “Birdsong” was on the track listing, I felt a frown appearing on my brow. Really? How could anyone possibly take on one of Motian’s most beautiful compositions of all time, let alone emulate the incredible performances of Chris Potter and Jason Moran on the original recording. But therin lies the beauty of what Padovani has achieved here; he doesn’t try to emulate what has already been made, he takes the “essence” of Motian’s music, the feel and ambience of it, and incredibly, manages to successfully interpret it in his own way. Padovani’s “Birdsong” is every bit as wonderful as Motian’s original, yet in a different way. The saxophonist gives the performance of the album here, haunting, stunning and incredibly moving. I doff my cap to him, total respect. “Flight of the Blue Jay” continues to surprise and delight, with its infectious groove and oddly uplifting quality shining through. “It Is” reinvigorates the mind, body and soul, as this wonderful album draws to a close with the excellent “Endgame”.
Undoubtedly one of my favourite, and least expected, albums of the year, “Motian in Motion” deserves high praise. This was obviously a project close to bandleader Padovani’s heart, and one that is a joy to experience. The warmth and passion emanating from the musicians is clear for all to hear. Thank you Mr Padovani; for producing such a thoughtful, beautiful album, and for reminding us of the treasures that the great Paul Motian bestowed upon us.