Garden Of Eden (Spa)


aec.imt1180704.2 1/24/06 New

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    Garden Of Eden (Spa) Decca / ECM

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Review Text Though recorded in 2004, the release of Garden of Eden marks the year in which drummer, composer, and bandleader Paul Motian turned 75. The Paul Motian Band is structured after his Electric Bebop Band from the 1990s. The group's unique approach to bebop is here -- particularly in the bookends of the set with Charles Mingus' "Pithecanthropus Erectus," and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," at the beginning, and Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" and Charlie Parker's "Cheryl," at its end -- the aesthetic focus has changed considerably to reflect Motian's own compositions. This band contains three guitarists -- Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, and Jakob Bro -- and a pair of saxophonists -- Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby -- with bassist Jerome Harris accompanying Motian. Through the continuing wonder of stereo reproduction, Motian guides us to the place where we know who's playing what in which channel, left, right, and center. And the magic begins. With the exception of the opening cut, everything here is short -- between two and five minutes. Though the music comes off as relaxed, somewhat gauzy and breezy; it nevertheless carries the pressure to deliver its various secrets in brief moments rather than long, drawn-out solos and engagements between players. The readings of the Mingus tunes carry all the knottiness of the originals, albeit with relaxed and breezy tempos. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is utterly moving as the three guitars all weave themselves around the saxophones and Motian and Harris keep steady, gently swinging time. On the leader's "Mesmer," the kaleidoscopic colors and tones that are possible with this kind of band are made self-evident. The simple nursery rhyme melody line -- like a less-urgent Ornette Coleman line -- asserts itself via a lone saxophonist, Motian, and Harris. The other horn enters, and they begin to engage and complement one another as the guitars enter the theme one at a time and wind, shimmer, and blur around the horns, ever-nuanced and elegant. Motian's drumming becomes more urgent and skittering, as does Harris' bass line, propelling movement against the repetition. In four-and-half minutes, the listener has been transported to another time and place. Other tracks here, like Jerome Kern's "Bill," written for the 1927 musical, Showboat, is made utterly pretty and wistful by the interplay between the saxophonists, who stagger each other in the lyric and chorus as guitars shadow them in various guises. The title track is the most speculative here, hinting at free improvisation as a skeletal melody asserts itself slowly and tersely. The tension created by Motian's around-the-beat drumming as the horns whisper their way through is quietly intense. Guitars nervously enter and fall away, adding minor-key shape and dimension to the proceedings. And though it threatens to explode at any moment, it merely swells and breathes cautiously yet purposely. The spirited yet laid-back swinging that takes place on "Cheryl," clocking in at just two minutes, brings the entire band full circle. It's irreverent yet accurate, it points to future looking, with empathic texture and dimension applied, to reading the music of jazz's past as a living composition as opposed to a staid, arid, reverence for history. Garden of Eden is more evidence -- like 2005's I Have the Room Above Her -- that Motian has been on a creative and compositional tear, and has been since the mid-'80s. This set is ambitious, full of humor, charm, warmth, and grace; it sings, whispers, talks, and at times it shouts; ultimately it offers listeners an intimate look at the complexity and beauty in the continually evolving soundworld of an artist who is a true musical giant. ~ Thom Jurek

Track Listing

CD: 1

  1. 1. Pithecanthropus Erectus - 7:05
  2. 2. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat - 5:55
  3. 3. Etude - 5:18
  4. 4. Mesmer - 5:36
  5. 5. Mumbo Jumbo - 4:34
  6. 6. Desert Dream - 3:15
  7. 7. Balata - 4:36
  8. 8. Bill - 3:02
  9. 9. Endless - 3:26
  10. 10. Prelude 2 Narcissus - 3:03
  11. 11. Garden of Eden - 4:06
  12. 12. Manhattan Melodrama - 5:38
  13. 13. Evidence - 4:30
  14. 14. Cheryl - 2:00

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