THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE ECM BOX SET. THE REVIEW PLACEMENT FOR THE BLACK SAINT/SOUL NOTE BOX SET HAS BEEN CORRECTED BY AMAZON, AND IS UNDER THE PROPER AMAZON PAGE FOR THAT BOX SET. SO YOU CAN NOW DISREGARD DR. JAZZ' POST.
Perhaps it's because fans of Motian's music already own most (or all) of the six albums included in this set. Or maybe it's because many jazz fans aren't familiar with Motian's music. So, just in case someone missed out on, or wants a little insight into, his music, I thought I'd write a little bit about the included music. Hopefully it will spark interest in someone to give Motian a listen.
Motian was one of those drummers who wasn't "just a drummer" in the usual time-keeping sense. He was also concerned with the melody of a tune--adding some color and interest to virtually everything he played on. And he (obviously) sounded even better when paired with a good double bassist. Combine his skills as a player with his composing skills and you have an all around good musician.
"Conception Vessel" (from 1972) is still considered a classic of sorts. Bassist Charlie Haden was crucial to the overall sound. And along with Keith Jarrett's piano and flute, the underrated Sam Brown-guitar, the occasional violin of Leroy Jenkins (known for his free jazz playing) who adds some good color, Becky Friend's violin playing here and there--you have a pretty good band. Overall this is a pretty strong album of compositions (all by Motian), with songs like "Georgian Bay" the title track, and "Inspiration From A Vietnamese Lullaby" showing how well this band played together.
"Tribute" (1974), retained Brown and Haden, but added Carlos Ward-alto sax, and another guitarist, Paul Metzke. You might think that Ward was the featured player, but it's the guitarists that are front and center. When Ward did step out his playing was assured and a good fit with the band. Both guitarists add a great deal of color and interest to the compositions (three by Motian, one each from Coleman and Haden), and their playing is the highlight of the album. Motian, as usual, plays sparingly as far as traditional time keeping, but leads the band in his subtle way through great tracks like "Tuesday Ends Saturday", "War Orphans", and "Song For Che". This is a very good set of jazz.
"Dance (1977) and "Le Voyage" (1979), both have similar personnel. Charles Brackeen-tenor/soprano sax, is heard alongside Motian. The former set has David Izenzon (known for his playing with Coleman) on bass, and the latter set has Jean Francois Jenny-Clark (well known in Europe) replacing Izenzon on bass. Brackeen is known for his sharp, incisive style of playing, and is a bit of a surprise (I think) to find him with Motian. His tone is similar to Ornette Coleman's, but at times his playing is very lyrical in an abstract way. Listen to "Lullaby" (from the "Dance" album) for a good example of this. Izenzon gets a deep full sound from his bass, while Jenny-Clark plays a bit more rhythmically. But both players add a slightly different yet very fine sound in a trio setting. "Waltz Song", "Dance", "Asia", and "Lullaby" from the "Dance" album are standout tracks, while "Folk Song For Rosie", and the title track from the latter album are good examples of that particular trio's sound. Both sets are a slightly refreshing change of sound from Motian's other bands in this collection.
"Psalm" (1981), finds the good tenor sax player Joe Lovano on board, with Bill Frisell playing some fine guitar. The bassist is Ed Schuller (someone I'm not familiar with), whose playing sounds a bit undefined--especially after the double bassists that Motian employed on previous albums. Likewise Billy Drewes on tenor/alto sax--another player I'm not familiar with. His tone and style just didn't seem to fit with either the other musicians or the compositions (all by Motian), he just didn't seem to get into the meat of the compositions--almost sounding in the way of others. But (again to my ears) the overall playing on this album didn't seem to come up to previous albums. And while both Lovano and Frisell play wonderfully, some of the music seems to lack focus compared to previous albums. But some of Motian's compositions are great--including the title track, "Second Hand", "Etude", and "Yallah".
"It Should've Happened A Long Time Ago" (1984), is a good return to form. Again, all the tracks are by Motian in this trio setting. Lovano and Frisell are back, and paired down to a trio gives each player room (and time) to explore the music. The combination of Motian's writing and the fine musicianship make this album one of the better sets here. Check out the title track, another version of "Conception Vessel", "India", and "Two Women From Padua". All in all a fine album.
More than likely if you've read this far you're a fan of Motian's writing and playing abilities. Hopefully others will come across this box set and be willing to take a chance on some of the better (then) contemporary jazz that was being recorded. Six albums of this caliber for relatively little money is to good to pass up. The 48 page booklet has a good essay on the music, along with a few b&w photos of various band members. Also included are (as usual with these sets) b&w repros of the album covers. The discs sit in cardboard slips, and everything fits inside a substantial lidded box. If you haven't heard Motian, stretch your ears a bit and see if you don't agree that his music should be wider known. If you want more of Motian's music, check out his work for the Black Saint/Soul Note labels in a fine box set released a while back. Hopefully Amazon will post this review under the correct box set--something they didn't do with my review of the Black Saint box set.