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Paul Motian and the E.B.B.B.: Holiday for Strings

Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band lives up to a portion of its name. The E.B.B.B. features electricity-two guitars and bass (plus two saxophones)-but the material on its latest album moves even further away from bebop than on previous releases. While last year’s Europe reworked Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Tadd Dameron and Herbie Nichols, Holiday for Strings leans more toward band compositions, save for the three prebop covers that bop and frame the album.

Most noticeable is the easy-listening standard title track by David Rose/Sam Gallop. The quintet renders it virtually unrecognizable, with the guitars and saxes elongating the phrases and creating an echo effect by playing out of sync. For listener clarity, guitarist Steve Cardenas shares the left channel with Chris Cheek’s tenor sax, guitarist Ben Monder the right with Pietro Tonolo’s tenor and soprano.

Richard Rogers’ “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” receives a similar facelift, as Cardenas and Monder transform the normally bouncy Oklahoma standard into something slower and more contemplative. The band gives Rogers’ “It Never Entered My Mind” a similar treatment.

Of the five Motian compositions on the CD, the drummer has previously recorded nearly all of them with different bands. Most of the album never rises above a languid volume and tempo, although Motian keeps things blazing with his subtle brushwork and splashes. Oftentimes, his playing seems to follow in close proximity to the melody of Andres Christensen’s bass. When he finally cuts loose with an explosive solo in “Endgame,” his touch makes it feel like a logical extension of the album rather than a departure from the relaxed mood.

The quiet mood of Holiday for Strings can be hard to penetrate on the first listen, but repeated investigation brings out the beauty in the way the group plays around and through one another.

Originally Published