Drum Music Reviews
Russ Lossing, Drum Music
A profound and beautiful tribute to Paul Motian
One of the most remarkable aspects of the late drummer Paul Motian’s playing was its lack of forward momentum, a trait that is skillfully translated by the pianist Russ Lossing in his solo tribute comprised of Motian compositions. Lossing, a player of wonderful technical achievement, largely puts speed and easy fluency on hold here, opting for a crystalline stillness that serves the writing very well. In order to “get” Motian’s playing, you had to put aside many received notions of what a jazz drummer was expected to do. You had to listen carefully, to think in terms of his collegial responses to those with whom he played. His playing, like his writing, was not geared to those who want easy answers in their jazz. So, although Drum Music is inarguably profound and beautiful, it rejects casual listening. Lossing hasn’t merely captured the letter of Motian’s compositions, he’s captured their spirit.
Lossing doesn’t favor one hand over the other, which breaks down the standard “right hand = melody and solo, left hand = chords and bass” that’s typical of most jazz pianists. As a result, a piece like “Conception Vessel” becomes something like a conversation, with either hand capable of initiating or responding to the other. “Gang of Five” could almost be a Motian drum solo, the lower part of the piano blocked and used as a percussion instrument, thumping great oceanic slaps of vibrating bass, and forlorn treble figures on the keys. It’s mournful and moving. “Last Call” has a quiet dignity that Lossing leaves wholly unadorned. It brings to mind Edward McDowell’s “New England Idyll,” short piano pieces written at the turn of the 20th century. The mysterious opening to “Olivia’s Dream” develops into a melancholy minor solo. Every note counts and, as he does on a number of pieces in the program, Lossing moves between the keyboard and the piano’s interior. Right and left hands work independently in “Dance,” creating two complex strands of linear exposition. The pianist’s clarity of articulation is noteworthy here. No matter how abstruse the development of his improvisation, there is an ironclad logic to everything he plays. Drum Music requires close attention. There is no flag waving or gratuitous display of any sort. Russ Lossing is a serious musician interpreting the work of another serious musician. He brings it the gravitas it deserves. It’s the art of a genuinely great pianist, just coming into what promises to be a long and productive maturity.
Moving from a physical expression of Motian’s skills to his talents as a composer is Drum Music, a solo CD by pianist Russ Lossing, who played with Motian on-and-off over a 12-year period. As weighty in his interpretation as Kikuchi is buoyant in his, Lossing’s unrelenting attack is as dynamic as it is respectful. With Motian’s favorite writing tempo mid or slower, the 10 tracks are interpreted in high recital fashion. Linear, precise and often magisterial, Lossing strives to extract every nuance out of every measure. A tune such as “Gang of Five”, for instance, encompasses basso rumbles, abrasive internal string plucks and soundboard echoes. When the animated theme finally appears so do affiliated variants. A tune such as “Mumbo Jumbo” confines itself to the piano’s lowest registers until jittery syncopation ends it while “Dance” unfolds a lyrical line and percussive stops simultaneously, with every key stroke and string scrape precisely balanced. However, not every track is as slowly paced. The title tune cascades flashily and kinetically as cumulative chording pumps up the narrative. In contrast, hints of a Latin beat poke through “Fiasco”, with the lively melody rappelling up the scale and key pounding characterizing the finale.
Conceived as an 80th birthday tribute to Motian, circumstances meant that Drum Music appears as a posthumous tribute. But considering Motian’s fragile health in the past few years could there be a premonition in Lossing’s funereal pacing of “Last Call” here? Restrained, romantic and reverberating, the playing - and melody - could serve as a threnody for Motian and his lifetime of work as superlative drummer and cunning composer.
Pianist Russ Lossing entered the studio in March of 2011 and recorded the 10 tracks on his new CD, "Drum Music: Music of Paul Motian" (Sunnyside Records). The pianist had worked and recorded with the drummer (who passed in November of 2011) on numerous occasions over the past 15 years, playing all of the material that makes up this program. Those listeners familiar with Motian's work, especially his music with Joe Lovano and Bill Frissell, know that the drummer/composer had no use for clutter or filigree, going straight to the heart of his music. To his credit, Lossing plays pieces from throughout Motian's long career, opening the program with "Conception Vessel", the title track of the drummer's 1972 ECM debut. One canj hear the influence of Motian's employer at the time, Keith Jarrett, in the song's long-flowing lines and rolling rhythms. "It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago", a composition that dates from 1985, juxtaposes sound and silence in such a way that the melody line as well as the tension is heightened throughout the 8+ minutes. "Gang of Five" starts inside the piano, the dampened strings and sustained notes slowly giving way to the exquisite melody that moves like a person lost in thought walking unaware through crowded streets.
"Mumbo Jumbo" moves forward with purpose on a rolling left hand while "Dance" sounds like a work for a modern choreographer, the rapid right hand melody darting about the strident and striding left hand. The title track is much more melodic than percussive; although the version Motian recorded with Jason Moran and Chris Potter for 2010's "Lost In A Dream" opens with a drum solo, Lossing moves right into the melody line and builds the piece from there, building the intensity and speed as the song flies forward.
Throughout "Drum Music", one is acutely aware of how Paul Motian, the composer, communicated his ideas in his originals. Many of these pieces move in unexpected directions yet never seem foreign or forced. What one might think of as simplicity in Motian's drumming or melodic ideas or, for that fact, in his approach towards the standards he played so often is anything but. The drummer/composer enjoyed melody and eschewed "showing off his chops" - Russ Lossing, an excellent technician, plays with purpose and not "for show". He pays homage to Paul Motian by making these pieces his own, making the melodies and rhythmic ideas stand out. As with Denny Zeitlin's "Wherever You Are", "Drum Music" should be listened to at night, in a dimly lit room, with no distractions. There is beauty in the softer passages, power in the more intense moments and heightened sense of creativity at all times.
"I like the way Russ Lossing plays my music."