Joel Harrison String Choir

The Music Of Paul Motian
Joel Harrison String Choir

Paul Motian is one of the most unusual figures in jazz – respected for his composing as much as his drumming. He was a member of Bill Evans’ famed trio, backed such greats as Lennie Tristano and Keith Jarrett, and formed a trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell.

Guitarist Harrison has released several impressive solo albums, but arranging Motian’s music for string quartet and two guitars is no doubt his most challenging undertaking – as its 10 years in the making would suggest.

Perhaps it’s his combination of written-out passages and space for improvisation (by guitars as well as strings) that keeps this from falling into the stiff trap of so many “jazz meets classical” undertakings. From the appropriately titled opener, “It should Have Happened A Long Time Ago,” there’s an organic tone and feel to the collaboration, with dynamics and tempos remaining elastic, rather than being carved in stone.

The angular, dissonant “Drum Music” sounds like a cross between Raymond Scott and Frank Zappa, while “Cathedral Song” displays Harrison’s crystalline tone. The 53-year-old harmonizes the opening of “Mode VI” with fellow guitarist Liberty Ellman.

The two non-Motian compositions, “Misterioso” and “Jade Visions,” are appropriate – the former by Motian’s one-time leader, Thelonious Monk, the latter by the third member of the Evans trio, bassist Scott LaFaro.

A great concept is one thing, but executing it is another. Harrison succeeds admirably on both counts.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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