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May 2006

Paul Motian Band
Garden of Eden
ECM Records

Paul Motian, a septuagenarian who once worked with Thelonious Monk, says that the larger of his two regular groups, a semirepertory septet that used to be called the Paul Motian Electric Bebop Band but is now known as the Paul Motian Band, was formed “to destroy bebop.” For the drummer/band leader, however, that project is hardly violent. On Motian’s silvery latest, Garden of Eden, performances are propelled by simple, folklike melodies, not by chords or steady beats.

As tenor saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby lay down synchronous—and vaguely accordion-toned—lines, the rest of the music seems to float and drift behind them. Chalk it up to the leader, of course, who takes a gentle, almost restrained approach to his instrument, dancing around each motif with utmost care. It’s hard to imagine the guy ever breaking a sweat, much less a stick or drumhead.

Jerome Harris, Garden’s acoustic bassist, responds to this rhythmic challenge with ambience rather than audible riffs. And when not echoing the saxophones, electric guitarists Jakob Bro, Steve Cardenas and Ben Monder behave similarly, flitting about their frets in much the same way that Motian flits about his kit. If this is detritus, then, I say, bring on more destruction.

Originally published in May 2006
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