by Josef Woodard

FRINGE PRODUCT: Paul Motian, the masterful
drummer/composer/leader who turned 75 last month, has quietly waged
a private, peaceable musical revolution. It has happened mostly out
of sight and sound from the mainstream quarters of jazz, but that
doesn’t diminish the importance of its legacy. Never mind that his
cult following is modest, if impassioned: Motian is a true-blue,
American jazz hero, who deserves our love, ears, and souls. Never
mind his stints playing with Bill Evans,
Keith Jarrett, and others. Motian’s real
significance is as a thinker/leader. He has been recording
fascinating and experimental, yet also invariably lyrical, albums
for smallish labels for the past 25 years, and has worked with his
various bands — including the sax ’n’ electric guitar love fest
formerly known as the Electric Bebop
and now just as the Paul Motian
, as well as his poetic bass-less trio, with tenor
saxist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill

What is it that makes Motian one of the greatest, and more
individualistic, jazz musicians alive at this moment? It’s partly
his complex relationship with time and his chosen language. Like
other visionary jazz musicians — especially drummers — Motian has a
quixotic way of massaging time and rhythm. He can make time float,
seemingly dislodged from ideas of beat or pulse, but his rhythmic
ideas are never inert or idle. He also has a knack for penning
simple, memorable tunes, with a mix of folkish directness and
experimental verve tempting comparisons to Ornette

All of these above virtues surface in Motian’s latest album,
Garden of Eden, part of his heralded return to the ECM label after
recording for JMT, Winter & Winter, and other small labels
(generally German ones). The album’s sequence is tellingly framed
by covers by some of his heroes: two Mingus tunes,
“Pithecanthropus Erectus” and “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” and, on the
tail end, Monk’s “Evidence” and Charlie
’s “Cheryl.” In between come several examples of
Motian’s inventive writing, all played with seductively focused

If you buy only 10 jazz albums this year, make sure this is one
of them. It’s feisty, swinging, and introspective, and full of
ensemble elasticity, not to mention time turned to dreamy rubber.
This is what jazz should sound like in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, Motian won’t be coming to the Lobero or other
venues near you soon. Motian has decided to retire from the road
and work strictly around his hometown of N.Y.C. Now, we’ll have to
go check out Mohammad on his mountain. It’s a worthy cause.

TO-DOINGS: John Pizzarelli’s father, the famed
Bucky, was part of an early wave of jazz
guitarists who helped make the electric guitar more than a tool of
simpletons. John, who will turn 46 today — just in time for
tonight’s return to the Lobero Theatre — tends to look backward
more than forward, and he’s in good company. At the risk of
generalizing, jazz is in a phase when audiences are soaking up
conservative values and the crossover appeal of sweetly sung items
from the Great American Songbook menu.

As a singer, Pizzarelli tends to stick to the melodies — often
time-honored ones, like “How Long Has This Been Going On?” from his
latest album, Knowing You, and the song set on his forthcoming and
inevitable Sinatra tribute, out this summer. As a
guitarist, Pizzarelli stretches into interesting corners, showing
considerable bravura, but with taste as his guide. As a
well-packaged entertainer, Pizzarelli has the goods to woo
listeners of a certain age, on down to the neo-standards gang.

MAMBAZO ALERT: Few band names inspire a warm
rush like that of the South African a cappella masters
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose return to Campbell
Hall, tonight, is creating happy havoc at the UCSB box office. Mere
mention of the name invokes images of honeycomb vocal harmonies and
the spirit of optimism even amid horrific social circumstances. We
need more of the same. (Got e? Email


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.