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So Many Musicians Inspired by Paul Motian

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Paul Motian The drummer Paul Motian, who died last month at 80, was revered in jazz circles for the sly, suggestive economy of his playing and the stark, deceptive ease of his compositions. He was a master of terseness, of the unfinished gesture that turns out to be complete in itself, and he had a profound influence on generations of musicians, including everyone mentioned here.

“The Windmills of Your Mind"—Mr. Motian's last album, on Winter & Winter—features one of his closest collaborators, the guitarist Bill Frisell, and one of his newer protégés, the bassist Thomas Morgan. Standing humbly in the foreground is the vocalist Petra Haden, whose father, the bassist Charlie Haden, had a musical bond with Mr. Motian stretching back more than 40 years. Singing standards with forthright sweetness and hardly a jot of flowery affectation, Ms. Haden creates a serene foil for Mr. Motian's brushwork, with its cobwebby flutter. And interspersed throughout are a handful of his originals, including the country-tinged “Little Foot," the darkly reflective “Backup" and the magnificently somber “Trieste."

Keith Jarrett

Of all the pianists historically associated with Mr. Motian, none—not Bill Evans, not even Paul Bley—established a more profound connection than Keith Jarrett, from the late 1960s through the late '70s. Working first in a trio and then a quartet, in both cases with Mr. Haden, they hammered out an elastic, ecstatic mode of discovery that has since become lingua franca within the post-bop mainstream. “Rio" (ECM), Mr. Jarrett's most recent album, resonates with that ideal even if it obviously adheres to another one: the spontaneous solo voyage, a durable cornerstone of his career. Recorded in concert this year, it's a warm and generous statement, with 15 discrete movements spread across two discs. There are pieces that feel prickly with dissonance, but by and large Mr. Jarrett reaches for soulfulness, even at the expense of precision. The album's most exquisite moments aren't tours de force of technique but rather dawning epiphanies, voluptuous with feeling.

Bill McHenry

A tenor saxophonist with a dry but expressive sound, Bill McHenry was among the many younger musicians to find deep kinship with Mr. Motian in recent years, often sharing a stage at the Village Vanguard, the drummer's second home. Five years ago this month they entered a New York studio under Mr. McHenry's name, joined by the guitarist Ben Monder and the bassist Reid Anderson, and recorded enough material for two albums. The first of those, “Roses," was one of the finest jazz albums of 2007; the second, “Ghosts of the Sun," was released on Nov. 22, the day Mr. Motian died. (Both are on Sunnyside.) All of the songs on the new album are by Mr. McHenry, and most convey the faux-primitive elegance that was Mr. Motian's trademark. The craggy melody of “Anti Heroes" supersedes a lissome groove; “Lost Song" gathers density as it rolls on. And two versions of a tune called “William" feature Mr. Motian in the role best described as “tentative provocateur," which he owned completely; when Mr. McHenry celebrated the album's release at the Vanguard, he called on the master drummer Andrew Cyrille, and it became a completely different song.

Marc Copland and John Abercrombie

“Speak to Me" (Pirouet) is the new duo album by Mr. Copland, a pianist, and Mr. Abercrombie, a guitarist—expert colorists with a shared capacity for the slow reveal. They have the casually fluid rapport, assertive in some places and accommodating in others, that comes only with longtime acquaintance. (They have been playing together intermittently since the early 1970s.) The track list includes two songbook chestnuts and an Ornette Coleman blues, but the originals carry the weight: three songs apiece, including “So Long," a calmly drifting theme by Mr. Abercrombie, and the title track, a sprightly invention by Mr. Copland. This is an album of sensitive touch and softly rippling atmosphere, but its core is durably clear.

Dan Tepfer

There's a gaping chasm, superficially speaking, between the cryptic sparseness of Mr. Motian's music and the polished, often methodical outflow of “Goldberg Variations/Variations" (Sunnyside), the new album by the pianist Dan Tepfer. But Mr. Tepfer, a regular partner in arms of the alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, brings a stubborn inquisitiveness to this exercise that Mr. Motian would probably have admired. The album presents Bach's “Goldberg" Variations in sequence, played with classical fidelity; but after each variation comes an improvised response. At times Mr. Tepfer recasts the harmony, tending to mood and hue; elsewhere he goes in for faintly comic departures, making a sport of transposition. It's an impressive feat, an act of scholarly mischief, but as with Mr. Motian's customary derangements of Tin Pan Alley fare, it keeps coming back to a hearty and abiding respect.


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