Motian Music Reviews
Pianist Russ Lossing dabbles in the fascinating musical universe of Paul Motian, an artist he knew very well. For 12 years, they were friends and collaborators, and Lossing decided this was the time to honor the late genius whose tunes fall somewhere between the lyrical and the abstract. Paraphrasing the pianist: “this music plays itself.”
On Motian Music, his debut on Sunnyside, he teams up with longtime associates bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz, a pair of creative minds with an elevated rhythmic sensibility.
The first couple of pieces, “Asia” and “Abacus”, date from the late ’70s, but their shapes are unlike. The former, carrying some folk connotations and emotional grandeur, mirrors the splendor of this piano trio; in turn, the latter comes enveloped by a magnetic abstraction and instigates free exploration. During the first minutes, Mintz offers us tonality, having the round, somewhat pinched bass notes from Kamaguchi dancing at his side as well as Lossing’s resolute, if perplexing, melodic lines.
Both drummer and bassist do a great job throughout, but they are particularly in evidence on pieces like “Dance”, a permanent push-pull activity with Lossing’s fluid ideas floating atop, and “Mumbo Jumbo”, a three-way conversation characterized by a strong rhythmic temperament and some motivic impetuosity that never reaches a factual state of anxiety.
Originally included on Motian's album It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago (ECM, 1984), “Fiasco” and “Introduction” are tackled with tempo exemption, allowing lots of liberties in the harmonic and melodic demarcations. In the case of the first composition, things are stirred up with a swinging feel at once familiar and eccentric. Conversely, “Introduction” adopts a reserved posture and is extended to six minutes against the three of the original recording. Bright flashes of piano convey a weirdly dreamlike aura gently underpinned by airier inflections of bass and brushed drums.
The recording couldn’t have ended in a better way, with the seraphic “Psalm” expressing a levitating simplicity that touches the sublime. Without subverting the art of Motian, Lossing puts a personal touch in this startlingly intimate album. The results are more than satisfactory and fans of the drummer will instantly relate to the music.
All About Jazz
Feb 11. 2019
The late drummer Paul Motian left quite an imprint on the jazz world, with over one hundred compositions to his name, and numerous artists releasing covers of his songs, as well as tribute albums and performances since his passing in 2011. Some of those have included Jeff Cosgrove's self-released 2012 album For the Love of Sarah, the Carl Michel Group's Music in Motian (Play on Records, 2018), a string quartet release by Joel Harrison titled String Choir: The Music of Paul Motian (Sunnyside, 2011), as well as a 2012 Sunnyside solo tribute by pianist Russ Lossing titled Drum Music.
The effect his former colleague had on Lossing has clearly failed to diminish in the years since that previous tribute, as the entire length of Motian Music is comprised of songs originally composed by the late drummer, albeit with Lossing's personal touch. That touch often means sourcing Motian's original melody but improvising heavily around it. One such example of this is "Abacus," the second track on the album. At the thirty-second mark, the melody kicks in, easily singled out through the song's length. The trio plays in such a way however, that it seems as if Lossing is trying to communicate with the late drummers composition rather than simply playing it. Paul Motian once stated, "I like the way Russ Lossing plays my music" and it's easy to see why here. Rather than simply giving old tunes a modern update, he interprets them anew, most likely in ways neither his old friend nor even he himself could predict.
Russ Lossing's piano is very much the sound of a singular voice sculpted through his background of improvisational jazz and classical music. Bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz had recorded with Lossing for over a decade before this release, as early as 2007's Oracle (HatOLOGY). The effect this experience has had is that the trio is cohesive, never thrown off by their leader's unpredictable nature. Having played since age seven, he offers a clearly and confidently defined approach to his chosen instrument. One of a line of records inspired by Paul Motian but certainly not the last, Motian Music is a fitting and worthy tribute to one of jazz's most important and celebrated drummers.
By Ed Enright
Paul Motian (1931–2011) wrote and recorded more than 100 original compositions during his long career as a drummer and bandleader. And he shared his tunes, notable for their singable melodies and rhythmically ambiguous forms, freely with his bandmates. One of those former bandmates is pianist Russ Lossing, who collaborated with Motian on several pieces in the drummer's oeuvre. Lossing's standing trio of 20 years with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz pays homage to Motian and his compositional concepts on this new recording of 10 Motian originals.
The group is a great fit for Motian's tunes, which are ripe for creative interpretation by their very nature. All three members demonstrate a unique ability to let the pieces sing for themselves and expand upon them in an organic way. The entire program was recorded live in the studio, all one-takes, in the order presented on the album. The musicians worked without any pre-set arrangements or discussions about the music—everything unfolds completely naturally, with a distinct free-jazz bent. Melodies—often played by Lossing in two-handed, multi-octave unison—and textures dominate the session. Harmony is mostly decorative and spontaneous, with the exception of a few instances where Motian wrote actual chord progressions. The music is by turns fluid and disjointed, booming and delicate, insistent and reflective. On this captivating recording, Lossing and company do a stellar job of illuminating the bare essence of Motian's idiosyncratic writing.
Russ Lossing, Motian Music (Sunnyside Records)
Release date: February 22
On Motian Music, pianist Russ Lossing pays tribute to his former collaborator, drummer-composer Paul Motian and his brilliance at creating subtle, singable melodies and rhythmically ambiguous, floating forms. This album is a collection of Lossing's reinterpretations of some of Motian's most idiosyncratic pieces in a trio with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz. “I have played all of these pieces with Paul at some point in our twelve years of work and friendship,” he says via a press release. “There is something about his music, his melodic conception and rhythmic invention that just simply makes sense to me and I find his music very easy to play. Really, it plays itself.”
New York City Jazz Record (NYCJR)
The late Paul Motian advised pianist Russ Lossing—
an associate and friend for over a decade—to keep it
simple when it came to harmonizing the drummer’s
tunes. That counsel has borne exquisite fruit in a pair
of recordings, this latest with Lossing’s working trio
(the first, Drum Song, was a solo piano recording, also
for Sunnyside). Here are ten subtle and fascinating
Motian pieces this trio seems to have in its blood.
For a gorgeous example of Motian’s writing,
opener “Asia” is quiet and hymn-like, deep and
contemplative. Bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer
Billy Mintz provide simple yet intimate accompaniment
while Lossing’s lines are elegant and the music is both
straightforward and intriguing. And that’s the story in
every track; even when the notes and directions of the
melodies are quirky and unusual, Lossing and his
associates imbue them with delicacy and grace.
“Fiasco” is the only tune repeated from the solo
album and it swings hard and direct, suggesting
resolute compositional structure. The interestingly
placed “Introduction” (the fourth track) inches forward
deliberately with Lossing and Kamaguchi striking
chords and notes with meticulous patience.
Highlighted in “Abacus” are bass and drums providing
dark underscoring to Lossing’s sense of abandon.
“Boomerang” floats nervously above a tenuous center
and, again, Kamaguchi and Mintz find the swing,
fragmented as it is.
There’s a lovely balance of peace and chaos
throughout. Knotty “Mumbo Jumbo” calls into play
Mintz’ mastery of the rhythms and Lossing shines in
how he too has mastered the late drummer’s
architecture. Kamaguchi, in a reserved manner,
introduces and supports the mysterious “Etude” while
Mintz gracefully helps Lossing find the subtle, almost
intangible melody of “Psalm”.
The way that this trio works together reveals that
it knows both its own sound and the mystery of
- byDonald Elfman
Thursday, February 7, 2019
The Companionship and Intimacy of The Trio
Pianist, composer, and interpreter Russ Lossing has had a fascinating career, one that now spans three + decades. He has worked with so many contemporary musicians, ranging from drummer Billy Hart to saxophonist Dave Liebman to guitarist John Abercrombie to vocalist Kendra Shank to cornetist Kirk Knuffke and beyond. There are really good reasons for his seemingly steady employment but the most notable is that Lossing is a thoughtful and creative pianist who truly immerses himself in every musical situation and gives his all. As a leader, he's recorded albums for Hat Art, Fresh Sounds New Talent, Clean Feed, SteepleChase Records, and Sunnyside, many in a trio setting as well as several solo recordings.