Paul Motian’s interpretations of rock feels 1968–74

Once, when attending a lecture of Paul’s, I remember him saying that each time he sits down at the drums, he tries to approach the music as if he’s playing them for the very first time. This organic aspect of Paul’s drumming is one of the things that I love the most. I always have the impression that the music around him, including the specific nature of the specific composition he is performing, is dictating the “what” of what he plays. As a result, he rarely plays any clichés, including any of his own.

Comparing Paul’s various approach to playing rock grooves with each other provides some examples of this. I’ve grouped three of them here. The first is from the Keith Jarrett album “Somewhere Before,” with the trio performing the Bob Dylan tune “My Back Pages” in 1968. The type of groove Paul creates here is probably the closest to a cliché of his (although, it is his own). You can hear him playing variations of this groove on tunes like “Le Mistral” in 1974, and “Sandino” in 1990. The 2nd transcription, “The Magician In You,” is from the Jarrett Album “Expectations,” recorded in 1972. Paul’s sparse, broken timekeeping is not only in character with the tune, but also leaves space for Airto to fill with the conga drum. The third transcription is the title tune from Jarrett’s 1974 album “Treasure Island.” As the feel and tempo of the tune are quite similar to “The Magician In You,” it’s interesting that Paul’s playing is  altogether different. Listening more closely to the character of the music, there are subtle differences in the character of the two compositions, and the variation in Paul’s approach is being dictated by those differences. Finally, it’s nearly impossible to describe, much less transcribe or attempt to practice, Paul’s performance on “Tuesday Ends Saturday,” recorded on my favorite solo album of his, “Tribute,” other than to say it’s magical.

For additional examples of Paul’s cliche-free approach to playing rock, compare also Paul’s playing on “Mourning of a Star,” “The Rich (And The Poor),” “Encore-a,” and most of Leni Stern’s album “The Next Day,” transcriptions of which appear elsewhere on this blog.