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Paying Tribute to Paul Motian

Heavyweights honor the late drummer and composer in New York

Geri Allen, Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, Paul Motian tribute concert at Symphony Space, NYC, March 2013

The Keith Jarrett quote that Manhattan’s Symphony Space used in ads for its March 22 concert simply dubbed “A Tribute to Paul Motian” was this: “Paul was one of a kind: a musicians’ drummer who thought about the music, not just the rhythm, and cast his own sound on everything he played … he could play anything, and with anybody.” That was the unstated premise that hovered over the nearly three-hour love-fest organized by saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell. To pay homage to Motian, who died at age 80 in November 2011, would not be to imitate him-not that anyone really could; he was that unique-but to revel in the drummer-composer’s insatiable, venturesome curiosity and apply it to a stunningly wide array of music.

Much of what was performed on this night didn’t even feature a drummer, and trios-one of Motian’s favored configurations, most notably his storied stint with Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro, and, later, his band with Lovano and Frisell-were nonexistent. Many of the players here worked with Motian, some for many years, others only briefly; some never got the chance. Their commonality was the impact he had on all of them, their goal to expose the breadth of his artistry.

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