I've spent a good amount of time recently listening to a new album by tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry called Ghosts of the Sun (Sunnyside), a quartet session with Motian—it was recorded in 2006 during the same sessions that produced McHenry's album Roses, released by the same label in 2007. (Motian was supposed to play with the band—McHenry, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Reid Anderson—during an engagement a few weeks ago, but his illness prevented it.) McHenry brings a complexity and dissonance to the music that belies the grainy elegance of his lines, but Motian is just as responsible for the music's nubby grit, using staggered snare bombs and stuttered cymbals to keep everyone on their toes—not just the band but the audience too. Below you can listen to one of the album's more extroverted songs.
Earlier this year Motian released The Windmills of Your Mind (Winter & Winter), an unlikely collaboration with singer and violinist Petra Haden of That Dog (and a million other one-off projects), who sticks to vocals on this album. The band, which also features guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, plays a collection of pop standards, from "Tennesse Waltz" to "Lover Man," as well as some Motian originals on which Haden sits out. The partnership isn't quite as odd as it might seem, since she's the daughter of bassist Charlie Haden, one of the drummer's steadiest collaborators over the years—and of course because Motian was always open to the influence and ideas of younger musicians. He worked regularly not only with fellow veterans such as Lee Konitz but with an army of younger players (McHenry, Brad Mehldau, Jacob Sacks, Adam Kolker, Anat Fort, Kris Davis, Tony Malaby, and Gordon Grdina, among others). During his career he played behind countless legends—Haden, Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett—but he never rested on those laurels.
This excellent piece by Ben Ratliff gets to the heart of Motian's singular approach.
Bill McHenry, "La Fuerza"