Monday, January 23, 2012
Motian Sickness - The Music of Paul Motian: For the Love of Sarah
I was very excited to get a copy of Jeff Cosgrove's latest CD "Motian Sickness - This Music of Paul Motian: For the Love of Sarah" awhile ago and it's a great album. Jeff has recorded a collection of Paul Motian's music in a very uncommon strings + drums instrument combination. But it really works for me and Jeff has put together a very creative and musical take on Motian's unique compositions. I've enjoyed listening to these tracks very much lately.
I was intrigued with this project and Jeff was nice enough to answer a few questions about his recording journey and relationship with the late Paul Motian.
What was the inspiration for this project?
"It honestly came from wanting to do something different. When I first heard Paul's record Conception Vessel, the music changed what I though a compositional/percussionist approach to jazz could be. At the time of hearing that record, I was playing a lot of standards with various musicians in trio settings and at jam sessions. I found myself restless in the music. I want to strive to have my playing with equal parts jazz drummer and percussionist and didn't feel like I could get that with the situations I was in. Motian's music really the most exciting vehicle for me to experiment with - he was approaching his music and standards from a very melodic/compositional point of view that really opened my eyes. I would practice to his records and one day I just knew I wanted to make a record of Paul's compositions."
What in particular attracted you so much to Motian's music?
"The emotional connection to the music and the effect of the musical space are the cornerstone of what attracts me to Motian's music. I love to hear the sound decay in the melodies, it is hauntingly beautiful in some of the compositions, like Conception Vessel or Arabesque but can also be frantic and misshapen like in Mumbo Jumbo or The Storyteller. The music has an elastic quality to it that creates a lot of illusions toward total freedom. The reality is that the compositions and improvisations are always rooted in Paul's melody. They are emotional, flexible pieces that come from Paul which produce beautiful music."
On speaking and communicating with Paul Motian:
"Well about getting to talk to Paul, it is kind of a funny story. I didn't know Paul but had spoken to him on the phone a few times and met him a few times through out the beginning of the Motian Sickness project. It all started when I was talking with pianist Frank Kimbrough after he had recorded his Play record with Motian in early 2006. I wanted to find out all about playing with Paul, as I'm a huge fan of Frank and Paul. I mentioned the idea I had to record Paul's music and he thought it was a great idea. He gave me Motian's number and took me about a year to work up the courage to call. Frank set my expectations low that Paul would call back, but Paul called back the next day. We talked on the phone initially for about 30 minutes about the idea for the music. He was genuinely interested to hear his music expressed through the mandolin/fiddle/bass/drums. Paul was hilarious on the phone, he really made it easy to talk to one of my hero's - one of my top five favorites actually. He was very humble about his compositions. When I told him the band name, he laughed so hard that he dropped the phone."
"Throughout the three and a half years of working on the project, Paul sent me about 30 scores in two batches. The first batch were twelve of his favorites, which included Conception Vessel, Mumbo Jumbo, For the Love of Sarah, The Storyteller, and Arabesque. The second batch were tunes that I requested. It is amazing to have the lead sheets in his hand writing and notations. He would tell me, "the phrase is the most important thing...I don't care how the cats play the time, but the phrase is everything." Those were definitely inspiring words."
"I would see him at the Vangaurd and I talked to him on the phone a few more times before he passed away which was amazing. Each time I would see him at the Vanguard, I would introduce myself and he would always say..."it's great to see you but man, this is a long way from West Virginia!"
The instrumentation you chose is definitely not a common one. How did you come up with the unique idea to record an album of all string instruments and drums?
"I live in an area (Eastern West Virginia) where there is a lot of bluegrass music. The warmth of that sound is really attractive to me. I had always wanted to play freer jazz with that warm sound. Over the last ten years, I have ended up collecting all of Paul's record as a leader. Throughout studying his music and playing, I just had a feeling that the warmth of sound that a mandolin, fiddle, and bass would bring out the illusive elements of Motian's music. It has such a folkloric quality to it and is so flexible to interpretation, much like bluegrass."
"I started to set up a couple rehearsals of the music with very traditional bluegrass musicians, I could tell right away that the music was perfect for the interpretation. The guys I was working with in the rehearsals were not use to the flexibility and give that the melodies had regarding time. It was definitely strangely beautiful though. I had to find the right players that understood the subtle nature of freer music and the warmth of bluegrass."
"First I approached mandolin player Jamie Masefield, which was introduced by a friend who manages the Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington Vermont. Jamie was playing at the festival in June of 2010 and my family and I were there for vacation and we met after his set. I knew Jamie was very comfortable in bluegrass and is an amazing jazz player - his Jazz Mandolin Project is a very, very cool band. He was definitely hesitant about it as he was largely unfamiliar with Motian as a composer. After sending him the tunes, he was definitely interested but still not sure he could fit in. When we talked about where I was coming from with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sound, he was hooked."
"With bass, John Hebert was really the guy that I wanted. I had never met him but I really dug his playing with Fred Hersch, Andrew Hill and so many others. His sound is so big and inviting. John had just played on my friend Noah Preminger's record so I called Noah and got in touch with John. From the outset, John was into it, super helpful and very encouraging. He helped me get the studio time together and when the original fiddle player was unable to make the recording, John suggested Mat."
"I knew of Mat and his playing with Motian. The first time I went to see Motian, Mat was in the band. He just has such a natural sound and really can do so much with it. Mat understands improvised music but very understanding of the sound of classical and bluegrass. Mat was very cool and interested when we talked for the first time. He wanted to do the record and it just seemed so effortless. Plus, he is just such a laid back guy which is so important for me. He was also encouraging when I talked about this being my first record."
"The guys were amazing from a musical and personal standpoint. The three and a half year time getting to the studio was worth it to have these guys on it. I couldn't have asked for more from these fine musicians and am so grateful to have been able to work with them."
On the recording process:
"In true Motian fashion, there was not going to be an rehearsal based on everyone's schedule. We recorded in New York in the first week of February in between two major snow and ice storms. John was coming in from Germany from a tour, I was coming up from West Virginia, Jamie was coming from Vermont, it had the potential to be disaster. When we walked into the studio, it was the first time we had all seen each other. The first notes we recorded were Arabesque, the one and only take of that tune. I knew we had a record that we could all be proud of. The communication was great. Everyone had ideas for the tunes, we arranged everything in between takes. It just really seemed meant to be. We talked, joked and played some great music together. I was so fortunate to be able to make this music with musicians of such a high level."
"This project has been a dream come true. It had frustrating moments with all the fits and starts with trying to get it all together but it certainly paid off. I was really, really fortunate to have all the support from my wife who would not let me give up. She knew it was important for me and I can't thank her enough for it...the record is named for her. This record was a testament to believing in something and it will come true. Additionally, Paul did get to hear the record before he passed away which I was able to get a lot of closure on this project."
As you can see here, Downbeat magazine also offered a very positive review of this album:
If you are interested in listening to this fine album, you can pick it up here:
iTunes (with two bonus tunes)