Album reviews

Jakob Bro & Joe Lovano – ‘Once Around the Room: A Tribute to Paul Motian’

Jakob Bro & Joe Lovano – Once Around the Room: A Tribute to Paul Motian

(ECM 4599490. Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

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The recording career of Paul Motian (1931–2011) began with Bill Evans’s first album as a leader (New Jazz Conceptions in 1956) and ended fifty-five years later, by which time Motian had recorded over thirty albums as leader and appeared as a sideman on many others: mostly with pianists (after Evans most notably Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley and Enrico Pieranunzi) and the hugely influential bassist Charlie Haden. So which recordings might have inspired this tribute? Piano trios?

Not at all. Instead, this tribute (recorded on the tenth anniversary of Motian’s death) was inspired by the three ECM trio recordings that Motian led with Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone and Bill Frisell on guitar: It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago (1985), Time and Time Again (2007) and, if any doubt were left, I Have the Room Above Her (2005) – referenced not only in this tribute album’s title Once Around the Room but also its artwork, both albums featuring a moody black-and-white photo of an apartment block at night in which a solitary window is blazing with light.

Lovano and the Danish guitarist Jakob Bro are natural torchbearers for the spirit of Motian, both having been profoundly touched by working with him [see the Lovano/Bro interview with LJN’s New York writer Dan Bergsagel – LINK BELOW], and Bro too recorded with Motian on ECM: Garden of Eden (2006). What’s more, Bro can sound remarkably like Frisell in his painterly approach to the electric guitar, often laying down effects-laden textures over which he dabs sparse melodic lines. Both Frisell and Bro were ideal for Motian, whose greatest influence was arguably how he liberated drummers from strict time-keeping duties by offering impressionistic splashes of percussion as an alternative.

Completing the unusual line-up are two drummers, Joey Baron and Jorge Rossy, and three (yes, three) bassists: Larry Grenadier and Thomas Morgan on double bass, and Anders Christensen on bass guitar. All three bassists played with Motian, while both drummers have a Motian connection at one remove (Joey Baron having played with Lovano, Frisell and Bro; and Jorge Rossy with Larry Grenadier). Remarkably, the five of them don’t get in each other’s way, instead weaving a complex mesh of sound that fills both left and right channel. It’s often hard to tell who’s playing what, the electric bass in particular often indiscernible from the double basses.

Lovano’s compositions tend towards the restless and atonal, Bro’s towards the lyrical, so it’s fairly easy to guess who composed what: Lovano the jagged ‘As It Should Be’ and ‘For the Love of Paul’, and Bro the lullaby-like ‘Song to an Old Friend’ and dreamy ‘Pause’; while the complex and ever-shifting ‘Sound Creation’ is (as hinted at by the title) a group improvisation, with Lovano swapping between tenor saxophone and tárogató (an instrument a bit like a clarinet / soprano saxophone hybrid, associated with Romanian and Hungarian folk music). Rounding out the set is one Motian original, ‘Drum Music’, which received its first airing on Motian’s Le Voyage (1979) with Jean-François Jenny-Clark on bass and Charles Brackeen on tenor saxophone, and which perhaps influenced the tonal explorations of Motian/Lovano/Frisell. Certainly, ‘Drum Music’ fits well on this album, having a free-jazz feel and being notable for drum duets bookending snarling guitar and squealing saxophone: a sonic climax before the tone poem ‘Pause’ that finishes the set.

Thirty-nine minutes is short for a contemporary album, and the knottier moments may surprise those lulled by the artwork into expecting only introspective nocturnes. But this is complex music with fine players and an unusual line-up, and reveals its treasures with close and repeated listening.

LINKS: Joe Lovano and Jakob Bro – Double Interview by Dan Bergsagel

Buy Once Around the Room

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