Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fusions + More Tributes to Paul Motian

"Suno Suno", the new recording by guitarist-composer Rez Abbasi, is his first for ENJA Records and second with his formidable quintet known as Invocation.  Here, as on 2009's "Things to Come" (Sunnyside Records), Abbasi creates a fascinating program of music for Vijay Iyer (piano), Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and the splendid drummer Dan Weiss.  The percussionist has been a mainstay of Abbasi's groups (save for the Acoustic Quartet) for over 5 years is the lynchpin of this music.  The compositions are informed by the guitarist's love of Qawwali music from his native Pakistan (he was born in Karachi but raised in Southern California).  Pieces such as "Thanks for Giving" and "Onus On Us" (the title of the CD backwards but also Hindi for "listen") have rhythms that may remind some listeners electric jazz-rock from the 1970s.  Yet, it is never bombastic nor static and the solos are very good.  Mahanthappa displays a fuller tone than on his recent "Samdhi" project (released on ACT Records), still playing in that vigorous style of his - on more than one occasion, his solos sounds like a fusion of Indian music and Charlie Parker riffs.  Listen to the way Iyer weaves blues riffs and Cecil Taylor-like power into his solo on "Onus On Us."  "Monuments" has a similar feel in its rhythmic drive and bounce - Weidenmueller's thick bass and Iyer's single-note left hand lines create a solid bottom while Mahanthappa and Abbasi play the melody. Things get both fiery and funky during the guitar solo, with Abbasi playing off Weiss's pulsing percussion.  The forward motion of "Part of One" is irresistible and the way the melody plays against then with the beat makes the piece stand out; then again, the solos by Abbasi, Iyer and Mahanthappa and the way that Weiss spurs them to intense playing is also quite glorious. 

It's a treat to get lost in this music. Played loud, the rafters shake - even on lower volume, one can not miss the intensity of the interplay and the joyous work of the rhythm section.  To find out more, go to

British-born pianist John Escreet creates music that has myriad influences and, for such a young person, sounds like no one else.  His debut recording, "Consequences" (Posi-Tone Records), recorded when he was 24 (he's now 27), displayed a musician with great technique and burgeoning compositional talent - by the time "Don't Fight the Inevitable" (Mythology) hit the racks in 2010, there was no doubt Escreet was a force to be reckoned with.  "Exception To The Rule" is his first for Gerry Teekens' Criss Cross Jazz label and features his compatriot (and mentor) David Binney (alto saxophone, electronics), drummer Nasheet Waits (he's appeared on 3 of the pianist's 4 CDs) and bassist Eivind Opsvik.  Unlike many of the releases on Teekens' label, there is an experimental edge to this music (several of the shorter tracks feature electric piano and synthesizers) -  "The Water Is Tasting Worse" has such a complex rhythmic patterns that the execution of it creates great tension.  Binney's billowing alto solo over Escreet's accompaniment ( a swirl of pounding chords alternating with swift, single-note, runs) is a highlight of the program.  "Escape Hatch" opens with a rapid-fire melody line and then, after a piquant alto solo (over impressive percussion), the pianist plays impressionistic figures while synthesizer sounds erupt around him(and the rhythm section colors the background.)  The multi-sectioned "Wayne's World" (a piece from Escreet's debut CD) goes in many directions with the interplay of Waits and Opsvik with Escreet particularly impressive.  Binney's solo is filled with melodic twists, a percussive attack that moves the track forward and, at times, "out."   After the solo reaches its climax, Escreet takes a short, unaccompanied, solo that starts quietly but picks up fire, leading the rhythm section back in for more fiery interplay (Binney rejoins the trio to take piece out.)

"Exception to the Rule" is an excellent program that should be listened to in one sitting.  If you only check out the shorter electronic pieces or the longer, up-tempo romps, you will not get the full effect of the project.  John Escreet is an exciting composer and Messrs. Binney, Opsvik and Waits make his writing come alive.  He is also an exciting musician as well as a person who has no fear of experimentation, crossing genres and avoiding cliches.  What more can an adventurous listener ask for? To find out more, go to  

The week after drummer-composer Paul Motian's passing on November 22, Ottawa-based journalist Peter Hum posted a series of remembrances from a dozen musicians who either worked with or were influenced by the master of understatement and supreme musicality.  Veteran players, such as Lee Konitz and Marc Copland, share their thoughts along with his long-time band-mates Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano as well as younger collaborators like Dan Tepfer and Jerome Sabbagh.  If you start with the comments of Larry Goldings, you can find links to the other musicians at the bottom of the page.  Go to - the tributes are heartfelt, honest, touching, and giving the often irascible Mr Motian a sweet sendoff.

Pianist-composer-journalist Ethan Iverson (keeper of the keyboard in The Bad Plus) weighs in on the life and appeal of Paul Motian on his blog, "Do The Math."  Read it and you'll learn even more why this drummer was such a influential and inspiring musician (with a wicked sense of humor).  Go to - once you finish reading, find some Motian music and be thankful for his long, fascinating, career.

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