Review of Paul Motian's Conception Vessel
Recorded November 1972
Conception Vessel, Paul Motian’s debut recording as a bandleader, establishes several sonic narratives that would become life-long trademarks of his musical cosmology: a haunting melodic approach imbued with a warped romantic edge, an obsession with aural texture, the juxtaposition of bombast and restraint, and an attraction to folk music-like themes. All of these musical attributes are encompassed within the Motian ethos, a living synthesis of cantankerous bohemian methodology, ferocious autonomy, and “the affect of honesty.” CV begins with the unhurried teleological soundscape of “Georgian Bay,” presenting a striking admixture of bassist Charlie Haden’s unmistakable Midwestern rumble articulating the enigmatic melody over a sparse bed of small Tibetan bells dancing playfully with Sam Brown’s classical guitar. Evoking Augustin Barrios’ lush melodic canon on a pleasure cruise through the streets of Berlin, “Georgian Bay” sets the mood for a recording that above all else presents a colorful atmosphere of restless audio plasticity. Consider each cut on CV as an entrance into a new world of sound. “Ch’I Energy” is a highly expressive solo percussion workout. “Rebica” falls with the spectrum of the free-blowing guitar trio format. “Conception Vessel” is a drum set/piano duet featuring pianist Keith Jarrett. “American Indian: Song of Sitting Bull” is another duet between Motian and Jarrett, yet this time Jarrett plays wooden flute while Motian utilizes maracas, bells, and concert tom-toms. Finally, “Inspiration From a Vietnamese Melody” is an amalgamation of Becky Friend’s flute, Leroy Jenkins’ violin, Haden’s bass, and Motian’s drum set/percussion. Beyond the fact that each song represents a unique field of aurality, what sets this cycle of tunes apart is CV’s acute attention to melodic detail, skillfully arranged textural settings, and ecstatic execution of improvisational interplay. There has always been something subversive about Motian. Beyond the camo baggies, hipster shades, and devil-may-care attitude, on CV Motian’s musical iconoclasm refuses to adhere to the idiomatic rigidity imposed by the bourgeois rules of jazz’s status quo. For all its new-age imagery, CV challenges established norms and charts a course for Motian’s irreverent aesthetic methodology.