One of the most swinging and creative drummers in jazz history, Paul Motian had a sound, touch, feeling and approach all his own that developed throughout his lifetime, and his relationships fueled his ideas. As a composer he also had a story; his pieces expressed his strong personality and experiences. My focus in this article is to highlight Paul’s innovative contributions as a drummer, composer, collaborator and leader.
Conception Vessel (ECM, 1973)
This album was Paul’s first as a leader and put into motion the amazing body of work that resulted over the next 40 years or so. This duet with Keith Jarrett speaks volumes to me and is one of my favorite compositions of Paul’s.
“(If the) Misfits (Wear It)”
Fort Yawuh (Impulse!, 1973)
I had the great fortune to hear the Keith Jarrett Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul live in Boston at the Jazz Workshop, just before they recorded this amazing album live at the Village Vanguard. Before his explosive solo, Paul is swinging so hard in his accompaniment and yet playing free as a bird. Pure music!
“I Love You”
New Jazz Conceptions (Riverside, 1956)
New Jazz Conceptions was the first of all the timeless, historic masterpiece recordings of the Bill Evans Trios with Paul through 1964. Paul’s contributions make these trio performances different and special. The trio format was a real home base for him. His roots and influences-Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, in particular-come through loud and clear on this cut and throughout this early recording.
“Palo Alto (Strike Up the Band)”
Live at the Half Note (Verve; rec. 1959, rel. 1994)
A rare look into jazz history, the origins of this two-disc set lie in a weeknight gig by the Lennie Tristano Quintet with Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Jimmy Garrison and Paul. Lennie took off and Bill Evans came in. Luckily, this evening was recorded and released by Verve in 1994 under Lee’s name. (Ed. note: Interestingly, Marsh’s solos from this date were singled out and released on the Revenant label in the ’70s.) The joyous feeling of this music is what it’s all about. Paul’s long relationship with Lee was well documented, and at the time of this historic recording, the legendary Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul was in full swing.