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Paul Motian: The Windmills of Your Mind

A sterling set featuring Bill Frisell, Petra Haden and Thomas Morgan

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There aren’t a lot of albums that possess what we might think of as a kind of hearthside glow, something that offers the perpetually wandering listener a place to rest. Paul Motian’s records don’t normally slot into this category, but this disc numbers among those divergent exercises one can find throughout the 80-year-old drummer’s discography. In this case, that means a set of pop standards with the deep, well-rounded luxuriousness of modern chamber music, with elements of high-romance. This is jazz as seduction music.

A good deal of said seduction stems from Petra Haden’s vocals and their knack of moving from a sly croon to a breathy falsetto in the span of half a bar, and back again. So it goes on the ageless-and pleasingly spooky-title track, a performance that comes off as epic and quiet at once. There’s a capaciousness to the soundscapes of these songs that will set the hearts of audiophiles all atwitter. If you’re listening on headphones, it almost feels as if you’ve been swallowed whole by the music, and good luck getting out again. Cuts like “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” and “Lover Man” are underscored by Thomas Morgan’s broad-toned bass, which has a fluttering, harp-like quality, and a pleasing reverb that foreshadows the next note.

Bill Frisell takes a similar tack on guitar, and his playing, per usual, displays a conversational aspect with a focus on short lines and fills rather than solos and extensions, an approach that Motian also adopts, as the good-cheer quotient builds over the duration of the set. There are some rockin’ moments too, with big payoffs, like when Haden’s vocal finally enters on “Tennessee Waltz” after a few instrumental choruses. What the expectant ear wants, the expectant ear gets, after which it becomes very difficult not to sway in time.

Originally Published