The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: String arrangements provide a timely tribute to a great jazz drummer
Musicians: Joel Harrison String Choir
Composer: Motian (arr. Harrison)

The great jazz drummer Paul Motian – long-standing member of Bill Evans’s trio and a band leader himself – died late last year. But this tribute to his music was recorded in time for him to hear it. His sparse, often melancholic, occasionally jagged themes are treated with reverence, but richly and imaginatively underscored.

The format is string quintet plus two guitars with a line-up including notable improvisers such as viola player Mat Maneri and guitarist Liberty Ellman. Joel Harrison’s arrangements provide well for this grouping, as a deft mix of detailed, often clustered part-writing and more open sections – witness the terse, aggressive opening of Drum Music that breaks down into free string noise, or the tangy chords and clever textures of Misterioso that lead into a guitar duet. The loose feel extends into the ensemble and, in places, the tuning – it’s partly deliberate, but ideally needs the balance of written and improvised music to favour the latter a little more.

Nevertheless, what improvisation there is is strong: Maneri’s microtonality and portamento offer a distinctive flavour, while the violin solo in Split Decision is full of energy and surprise. The album more often travels in the slower lanes, but there’s enough in the music for this not to really matter.

James Crel