Paul Motian on “Theme For Babylonians” 1984

In 1984 I flew to a club called “Ryles” in Boston to hear Paul’s new trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. They performed for two nights. At the time, I thought the first night was incredible, the second, not as good. A fan sitting next to me named David recorded both nights. At the end of the first night, Paul demanded that he hand over his cassettes, which he did. The second night, David managed to conceal his recorder and microphone, and after I returned to Cleveland from Boston, he sent me a copy.

For years this tape has been my favorite recording of the trio. I can’t say how many times I’ve listened to and been inspired by it.

Not only did it have value for the excellence and inspiration of the music, but it also contained two never-recorded originals of Paul’s, one of which is this.

When Paul came to my apartment to do his interviews in the early 1990’s, I gave him copies of my transcriptions from this gig and undoubtedly recounted the story to him as well.

Now, years later, after Paul had passed away, there's a coda to this story. Paul’s niece, Cynthia McGuirl, who inherited his estate, also inherited the transcriptions I had given him, along with some of our correspondence, and got in touch with me. I sent her my copy of the second night, and she sent me a copy of the tape of the first night that Paul had confiscated. Finally, 30 years later I could hear it again! Did it match my original impressions? Honestly, at this point, I hear both nights as being equally special.

You can track down the recordings of these nights on Cynthia’s podcast:

According to Bill Frisell, “‘Theme For Babylonians’ is the form of the old standard 'What Is This Thing Called Love?', leaving out the melody, using chords that Bill Evans wrote as a re harmonization of the tune. Paul would have us all improvise at the same time over that structure and tell us not to play the melody and he gave it that title.”

It sounds to me as though Paul also wrote an ending to the tune that was not part of the original.

There are two particularly valuable aspects to this transcription. First, the eights that Paul trades are astonishingly original and intense; second, his way of breaking up the timekeeping in-between his eights is equally original and intense. I’m very happy this recording was captured.

On a personal note, I love dark sound of Paul’s ride cymbal here, and it's combination of definition and crash-ability (if that’s a word) and wonder, what is it? It sounds like a Paiste Sound Creation, but it’s not his dark ride… A dark crash? A prototype? I would love to be able to play this cymbal! This cymbal can also be heard throughout the band’s first trio recording for ECM.