The Music of Paul Motian

SSC1273 2011-01-18

Track List

It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago - 5:21
Drum Music - 4:08
Cathedral Song - 5:32
Misterioso - 7:03
Mode V1 - 6:22
Owl Of Cranston - 4:35
Jade Visions - 4:34
Split Decision - 2:27
Etude - 7:22
Mumbo Jumbo - 1:04
Conception Vessel - 3:12
From Time To Time - 3:36


Christian Howes - violin
Sam Bardfeld - violin
Mat Maneri - viola
Peter Ugrin - viola
Dana Leong - violoncello
Joel Harrison - guitar
Liberty Ellman - guitar

"I love the concept, the arrangements sound great”
— Paul Motian

One evening in the late 1990’s I was drinking next to bassist Ed Schuller at the now defunct club, Detour.
We got to talking about Paul Motian’s music, since Ed had played for years in Paul's quintet. One thing led to another- I helped reunite the quintet for a weekend at Yoshi’s in Oakland, CA in 2000. It was around that time that I ran into Hans Wendl, who worked with Paul at ECM, and I found myself saying, “Paul’s music is so unusual…it seems like great music to arrange for string quartet.” Having uttered those words, a spell seemed to be cast. It was a conquest I could not let go of, despite its absurdity. It stuck to me like flypaper. Many revisions later, plus two guitars, here we are.
Paul Motian has written a remarkable number of highly original tunes, especially for his trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. His singular, under-appreciated sound is at once quizzical, playful, melancholy, and fierce, more suggestion than declaration. I arranged his pieces according to my own vision, yet trying to capture Paul’s elusive approach to drumming and writing.
The task was formidable.
It is highly unusual for a string ensemble to function in this way, moving back and forth between spontaneity and formal notation, calling for group and individual solos, as well as all manner of expressive techniques. I could have called on an established string quartet; however, I decided to make a team of some of the most original voices in modern improvised string music, and build things from scratch. There was plenty of trial and error. What to write down? What to leave open? All I can say is, like any respectable jazz project, there is enough left to chance so that each performance is remarkably different.

Through it all, my goals have been clear. I have resisted relying on the received wisdom of rhythm section and soloists. I see the need to elevate composers who are not already part of the jazz canon and bring unusual instrumentation into jazz. I strive to find new ways to balance spontaneity and notation and destroy stylistic barriers. Certain aspects of Paul’s sound were obviously unattainable, so I chose pieces that fit this format best and included two tunes closely associated with him- Misterioso, which he often plays with the trio, and Jade Visions, the haunting tone poem that ends the infamous Bill Evans recording, “Sunday at the Village Vanguard”, on which Paul plays drums. Beyond all concepts I have striven to make a ravishingly beautiful document of some incredible songs.

Joel Harrison"

Listen to a full track.


Nice review in the March 2011 issue of JazzTimes.

Mike Shanley, JazzTimes - March 2011 read the full article

Four stars in the June 2011 issue of DownBeat!

Jon Ross, DOWNBEAT - June 2011 read the full article

Choc! Great review in Jazz Magazine France!

Ludovic Florin, Jazz Magazine - November 2011 read the full article