Less Is More for Paul Motian

But sometimes more works, too

With even Frank Loesser's "Sue Me" (from Guys and Dolls) treated dolorously, the tempo throughout On Broadway is just short of funereal—made to seem even more so by Motian's fast sticks and brushes' arhythmic counterpoint. Just as it was with Monk, it's always fun to hear what Motian has in mind in dragging an old song into his own sphere, and even though "Just a Gigolo" isn't going to yield any new wrinkles not already fully explored by Monk and Louis Armstrong, a gorgeous but neglected Jimmy McHugh song called "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" benefits greatly from the application of what can only be described as leisurely tension.

Motian (left) and Jason Moran, setting a path
John Rogers/ ECM Records
Motian (left) and Jason Moran, setting a path

The most diverting soloist here is Stillman, whose pellucid tone and deceptively slack phrasing immediately identify him as a Lee Konitz disciple with plenty of ideas of his own. But the date's real heroes are Morgan and Attias, both of whom I'm used to hearing in much freer settings. On ballads like the ones here, liberating drums from strict timekeeping shifts the responsibility of maintaining a steady tempo to bass, and Morgan shoulders the additional burden as gracefully as Motian himself did in holding down the bottom for Evans and LaFaro back in the day. And it was a stroke of inspiration on Motian's part—testimony to his acumen as a bandleader—to assign "Something I Dreamed Last Night" and "I See Your Face Before Me," melodies full of delicate longing and implicitly feminine in their point of view, to Attias's whiskered baritone. Embellishing a pretty melody is no longer the emotional outlet that it was for earlier generations of jazz musicians, and even with Stillman adding a touch of double-time wanderlust on the bridge, this "Something I Dreamed" won't stop you dead in your tracks the way both Miles Davis's 1956 version and Jeri Southern's lispy version from four years earlier still do. But it sure as hell stays with you—or why would I be mentioning it now, almost a year after its release?

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