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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Derek Bailey & Paul Motian - Duo in Concert (Frozen Reeds, 2023)

By Don Phipps

When two accomplished and adventurous musicians sit down together, the results can often generate an unusual and extraordinary experience. These historical recordings from the early 90s do just that, bringing together the late avant garde guitarist Derek Bailey and the late free drummer Paul Motian for two concerts – one at the Groningen, Netherlands’ JazzMarathon and the other at the New Music Café in New York.

Both of these musicians had a long history of outstanding contributions to jazz music. Bailey was an established free jazz guitarist. For example, back in 1977, he brought an all-star lineup of free jazz artists (Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Steve Lacy, and others) together for the albums Company 6 & 7, albums recognized for their adventurous and spontaneous compositions. Motian played in the 1950s Bill Evans trio (with legendary bassist Scott LaFaro). He gained further prominence as the drummer in the Keith Jarrett “American” quartet, which, in addition to Jarrett, was composed of free jazz luminaries Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman.

While Bailey was always about free playing, Motian not only crossed between the mainstream and experimental, but found ways to bring the experimental into the mainstream. So, the concerts recorded in this release, while outstanding in their own right, are important documents by acknowledged jazz masters.

The album opens with the lengthy 'Duo in Concert (Groningen).'  This piece offers an abstract and subtle performance by Bailey, who here, seems obsessed with space and sound. Motian contributes rumbles and splashes that are both intuitive and expressive – adding texture to Bailey’s various picks and strums. There is a shorter follow-on encore which offers up unique abstractions created by Bailey’s voicings and Motian’s cymbal work, rimshots, and snare bounces.

The next two pieces are from the New York venue. As in the Groningen concert, the duo opens with a lengthy piece followed by a shorter encore. Motian begins the flamboyant 'Duo in Concert (NYC)' with an energetic all drum effort (featuring some nice bass pedal footwork) and maintains this energy throughout the session. Meanwhile, Bailey, who twangs and picks, embraces the guitars subtle nuance, highlighting single notes that bend like a tree in a heavy wind followed by chords and strums that suggest the jarring effects of New York City pedestrians jostling on crowded sidewalks. One is reminded of Scorcese’s depictions of the view of passing neon lights and dark alleys outside Bickle’s taxi.

The NYC encore is a more fragmented affair, with Bailey using electronic distortions while Motian offers up a volatile accompaniment across all of his various drums and percussion. The effect is both stalwart and serious – a kind of glorious musical quasar bursting outward.

A collaboration as relevant today as when it was recorded a quarter of a century ago, Bailey and Motian’s wonderful sound collages in these concerts are not only of historical significance, but they are not to be missed.


Taylor McDowell said...

Great review, Don. I really enjoyed this release. Derek's long history performing in duos with drummers makes for interesting juxtapositions across his recorded output. I thought his pairing with Paul produced spectacular results on this album. Motian is a sensitive and provocative partner, making for an exciting recording!

John Coldwell said...

Excellent review. Listening to these two amazing musicians, it is hard to believe that this is improvised and not pieces that were written down and thoroughly rehearsed before the performance. Vital listening.