Jazz is a repertory music much like most of the classical canon and similar to classical music’s greats, e.g. Beethoven and Stockhausen, the names of the genre’s pen masters are instantly recognizable. From Ellington and Monk to Silver and Braxton, compositional genius comes in many forms in jazz.
Drummer/composer Paul Motian was brilliant at creating subtle, singable melodies and rhythmically ambiguous, floating forms. Former Motian collaborator and pianist Russ Lossing chose to honor Motian and his work by recording Motian Music, a collection of Motian’s idiosyncratic pieces played by Lossing’s trio.
Lossing is in the perfect situation to reflect on the legacy of composers of all sorts. Having studied classical music, including time under the tutelage of John Cage, Lossing has covered a vast breadth of creative music, from modern classical to jazz to free music. His attraction to the idea of improvisation reflecting and enhancing composition has led the pianist to pursue a lifetime of performing jazz.
It was only natural that Lossing would come into the fold of Paul Motian, a musician with a very similar modus operandi. Motian came through the worlds of contemporary classical, bebop and hard bop before finding his singular musical identity. It is no surprise that the two were close collaborators and friends for twelve years, where Motian was at ease enough to ask Lossing for opinions and suggestions on his compositions.
“I have played all of these pieces with Paul at some point in our twelve years of work and friendship. There is something about his music, his melodic conception and rhythmic invention that just simply makes sense to me and I find his music very easy to play. Really, it plays itself.”
For Motian Music, Lossing brought in his standing trio of bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz. The music of Motian that they chose to re-interpret fits the dynamic of the trio, as the musicians have a honed ability to let the pieces sing for themselves and are also able to expand upon them in a natural way. The recording was done at the Charlestown Road Studio in New Jersey and in real time, as all the pieces were recorded in a single take.
The recording begins with Lossing’s piano introducing a reflective and hazily spiritual “Asia,” with spare accompaniment from bass and drums. “Abacus” showcases the special interplay between Mintz and Kamaguchi in their gnarly, dark underpinning with the piano’s melody skipping alongside with abandon. “Fiasco” is insistent and swinging with Motian’s abrupt rhythmic intension in full display. The delicate “Introduction” is an exercise in patience and resolution, while “Boomerang” is Monk-ish with a barely there center of gravity and disjointed swing.
Mintz sets up “Psalm” with a hesitating grace that marks the brilliance of the elusive melody. Kamaguchi’s pointillistic and reserved bass quietly introduces “Etude,” a piece that’s mystique is in the circular form and eastern modality. The title of “Mumbo Jumbo” fits the intricately built but seemingly random rhythm hits and displays Mintz’s fantastic feel for Motian’s concepts. Lossing’s tremendous rhythmic mastery is hard to miss on “Jack of Clubs” and the haunting “Psalm” closes the recording in an improvised meditation.
Paul Motian’s music is as mysterious as it is inviting. It is of no surprise that so many musicians find the late composer’s music so captivating and ripe for interpretation. Russ Lossing doesn’t take the importance of Motian’s music lightly and hopes to keep the gorgeous mystery alive on his Motian Music.
released February 22, 2019
Russ Lossing - piano
Masa Kamaguichi - bass
Billy Mintz - drums