Saturday, September 14, 2019

CD Review: Russ Lossing - Motian Music

Russ Lossing
Motian Music

This album came out in the early part of the year, and I've been listening to it a lot since then, waiting for the right moment to write about it, when the music is clear enough in my head to yield some coherent thoughts. Now's the time, it seems.

I've said this many times and, for that reason, this should probably be the last time it appears in print, true as it is: Paul Motian always seemed like he could express more feeling in one tap of the ride cymbal than most drummers could say in a whole solo. His approach to the drum kit sounded so personal, like thoughts flowing from the mind of a deep thinker.

By the same token, his compositions had much of that immediacy. They sprouted from the same focus on simplistic, but fertile, ideas. In Motian Music's liner notes, pianist Russ Lossing recounts the experience of reading through the drummer's compositions at his apartment as he finished them. "I play while he alternately hovers over me and walks around the apartment listening. 'It's slooooow,' he says... After I play the bare melody, Paul asks the inevitable question: 'What chords would you put under it?' A complicated question. to be sure; so many possibilities, so many directions."

Regardless of the possibilities, this set of of Motian's tunes gives credence to the idea that players shouldn't rush through the composition to focus on improvisation. In "Asia," which opens the album, Lossing doesn't stray far beyond the written theme. Instead, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz open up a little, while the pianist repeats the theme with a bit more emphasis each time. It's not exactly the approach Thelonious Monk took, but his likeminded idea of keeping the melody close at hand comes through.

Mintz adds some very Motian-esque cymbal taps in "Introduction" which underscores Kamaguchi's simple pulse and Lossing's melody. A whole track of this would be enough, but they open it up into a detailed three-way conversation. "Etude" also begins gently, with Kamaguchi playing the melody, before Lossing picks it up and the trio rolls into it thoughtfully. When the song reaches a climax, the trio sounds like they're leading to a roaring finale, only to pull back and end as gently as they begin.

In addition to producing a stellar set, the trio's work also left me wondering how these tunes sounded when Motian played them, a sign of quality in any tribute album. While listening to it one night, I wrote down the original albums on which each track appears. Most of them are on ECM and are part of a six-album box set that the label released a few years ago. That list got lost in a sea of papers somewhere around here, but that just means that it's time to revisit the whole box. Or just play Motian Music again.

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