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The Windmills of Your Mind

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Album Review

Recorded by this quartet to celebrate drummer Paul Motian's 80th birthday, The Windmills of Your Mind is a collection of jazz and pop standards played by a stellar quartet that includes guitarist Bill Frisell, vocalist Petra Haden, and bassist Thomas Morgan. It mirrors, in an indirect manner, some of Motian's On Broadway releases (Morgan appeared on the fifth volume and Frisell on the first three), as well as the all-but-ignored duet album Petra Haden & Bill Frisell, from 2003. While this is Motian's date, it is Frisell who keeps these skeletal arrangements together. One gravitates naturally to his instrument's lyricism as it introduces each tune as if it were a human voice. When Haden enters, it's almost as if she duets with Frisell. This doesn't take anything away from Motian or Morgan. Even at his advanced age, the drummer is a consummate dancer, his touch erudite and certain, yet so artful and airy it sets these rather straight re-readings just "off" enough to open them up musically. Take the mysterious intro to the title track, introduced by his brushed snare and hi-hat. Frisell hints at the melody, posing it as a question to Haden, who states the lyric sweetly and plaintively, yet Motian's movement unlatches the door at the ends of each of her lines. Haden introduces "I Loves You Porgy," as a nearly pastoral love song. Frisell follows suit, highlighting her vocal with shimmering chord voicings and just enough reverb to create space. While Morgan's bassline stays close to the changes, it's Motian's accents, feints, and stutter-stops that hint there is a darker drama afoot. Only Frisell's guitar keeps the tune from moving somewhere else. Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You" begins almost haltingly with the trio finding a common space to insinuate rather than state the melody. When Haden begins singing, Morgan finds it first, while Motian skates around it deftly, creating movement inside Frisell's restraint. The singer is allowed to imbue the lyric with shades of meaning that not only evoke memory, but also a present-tense, nearly wistful longing. There are some lovely instrumental interludes inside its nearly six-minute length, that evidence the close listening of all participants at work on this lovely recording.


Born: 25 March 1931 in Philadelphia, PA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A masterfully subtle drummer and a superb colorist, Paul Motian was also an advanced improviser and a bandleader with a taste for challenging post-bop. Born Stephen Paul Motian in Philadelphia on March 25, 1931, he grew up in Providence and began playing the drums at age 12, eventually touring New England in a swing band. He moved to New York in 1955 and played with numerous musicians -- including Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Coleman Hawkins, Tony Scott, and George Russell -- before settling...
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The Windmills of Your Mind, Paul Motian
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