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Paul Motian: Paul Motian (box set)

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In the second decade of the new millennium, it is not an uncommon occurrence to get up in the morning, turn on your computer and learn of the passing of another significant jazz figure who came up in the ’50s or ’60s. But the death of Paul Motian in 2011 hit the jazz world especially hard. People took it personally. He represented a unique, pure paradigm within the jazz aesthetic. It seemed impossible that his spare, diverse iterations of energy would no longer be improving countless ensembles.

This six-CD box in ECM’s Old & New Masters series contains Motian’s first six albums as a leader for the label, recorded between 1972 and 1984. The first two, Conception Vessel and Tribute, present sextets and quintets dominated by stringed instruments (guitar, violin, bass). They are very early versions of what became known as “the ECM sound”: airy, rapt, atmospheric, crystalline in sonic quality. It was the era when ECM’s motto was “the most beautiful sound next to silence.” The silences here are always subtly disturbed by Motian’s ambiguous accents and implicit tensions. The second two, Dance and Le Voyage, are trios with outcat Charles Brackeen. “The ECM sound” had room for both soprano saxophone quietude and raging tenor saxophone skronk. The last two are Psalm and It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago. They launch Motian’s rarefied creative interface with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, a partnership that endured, with interruptions, for 30 years.

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