Review of Paul Motian's Tribute
Recorded May 1974
Paul Motian’s Tribute leads off with the track “Victoria,” a quartet performance comprised of Motian’s playful brushwork, Sam Brown’s shape-shifting classical guitar, upright bassist Charlie Haden’s careening pizzicato, and Carlos Ward’s elegiac alto saxophone. “Victoria” is an aural palimpsest: Gauzy melodies hint towards something ancient, delicate, and refined, yet a foreboding sonic shadow of aching mystery lurks on the horizon. The dark cloud dances with the angelic moonlight. Tribute is a tour-de-force of Brown’s robust and majestic guitar playing. Brown’s classical guitar work has a tactile quality. He shapes the music in a way that the listener can feel the notes as a visceral tonal embrace. Brown’s finger picking shifts and weaves the chords in a haptic way that suggests human touch, his sound relaying bodily sensation. Sadly, Tribute is the last recording that Brown made with Motian (Keith Jarrett’s sensational Treasure Island, which featured both Motian and Brown, was recorded in February 1974). Brown passed away in 1977, and his loss is one of the tragic “what ifs” of jazz history. The interplay that Motian and Brown developed on Conception Vessel and Tribute was extraordinary, a singular aesthetic that foreshadows Motian’s relationship with the guitar and guitarists as his career moved forward. Tribute’s “Tuesday Ends Saturday,” a quartet track featuring the electric guitar work of both Brown and Paul Metzger, sounds like something from the catalog of Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, a group formed in 1992 and featuring two, sometimes three, electric guitarists. Simply put, as the years rolled on, Brown’s presence loomed large over Motian’s musical output and creative methodology. Ornette Coleman’s influence on Motian hangs above the entirety of Tribute. Beyond the inclusion of Coleman’s “War Orphans” and the presence of Haden, Coleman - the composer of floating melodies and harmolodic sing-alongs – was a palpable force in the jazz world during the 1970s. Motian certainly was listening. You can envision him sitting at the piano he bought from Jarrett, carefully picking out the folk-like melodies that are scattered throughout Tribute, cutting out the fluff and choosing only the essential notes. The tunes on this recording are lean and spare: Distilled gems that reflect Coleman’s rare beauty, but with only a third of the notes.