Garden of Eden

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Drummer Paul Motian defines a unique kind of cool among jazz drummers, a sort of Zen nonchalance; he's anti-marching to his own beat. His solos can sound like collapsing shelves; rather than driving the band, he sounds like he's just another cat hanging out with the cats. He nailed his place in jazz history at the Village Vanguard with Bill Evans in 1961, live sessions that were enshrined as a new definition of swinging (lightly so, but definitely) instrumental intimacy, but for Motian they were just a beginning as he's continued to define himself. His working definition here is an unusual band, an unpredictable repertoire and crafty arrangements that give the impression of a band stretching out without playing more than five minutes on most tunes. The band: bass (Jerome Harris), two tenor saxophones (Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby) and three electric guitars (Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder and Jakob Bro). And with the guitarists all speaking in light, airy tones, there's a cloudlike drift to the sound, and a restraint all around that keeps things from sounding cluttered. The tune list includes Jerome Kern's rarely jazzed "Bill" (from 1927's Showboat) and Charles Mingus' rarely performed "Pithecanthropus Erectus" — a musical essay on the rise and fall of man — plus Mingus' omnipresent lamentation "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." Motian gives us a take on Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" like no other (theme, drum solo, theme — end of story) and a playful version of Charlie Parker's "Cheryl." But it's Motian's originals that predominate; they have a subtle Ornette Coleman influence in the way the melodies hang in the air, suspended. Those conventional resolutions — who needs 'em?

W. Kim Heron is the managing editor of Metro Times. E-mail wkheron@metrotimes.com.

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