As part of a moving homage to the late Paul Motian, Italian guitarist Paolo Bacchetta devised The Storytellers, an album featuring works inspired or composed by the late, celebrated drummer-composer. His trio Yerkir, (Armenian for earth) completed by organ player Giulio Stermieri and drummer Zeno De Rossi, well illustrates the multiple faces of Motian’s career. Right from the top, “White Magic”, a churning blast of instrumental rock from 1982, takes the message and grit further than Motian envisioned, adding organ blasts to tear holes in the audio terrain. It’s fair to say that downtown’s post-punk confluence is here resurrected to its obvious conclusion. Throughout, guitar sings, slashes, whispers and lures. Stermieri and De Rossi not only complement his sizzling lines, but also cast a network of empathic sound, at once agitating and terse. Spacious cuts like the pensive “Abacus” (Motian) and sleepily restless “Chinese Café” (Stermieri) paint much of the atmosphere one associates with Bill Evans, Motian’s best loved and remembered employer. While the organ is a wholly different animal than the acoustic piano (particularly Evans’), Stermieri’s touch, executed with the delicacy of a surgeon, lends itself well to this effort. And while the drummer’s role here could be daunting—Motian’s purposeful tacits, sensitive drive and visceral awareness put him into a unique category among modern drum artists—De Rossi displays considerable fluidity and chops with masterful dynamics and undying patience, paying tribute but never copying. Makes sense that in The Storytellers, he offers gripping commentary (listen for this in his own “Sournoise” and “Jean”). Bacchetta’s “La Danza Macabra” is the standout, an uptempo waltz, which brings to mind Motian’s brilliant trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. The guitarist’s overdrive and burn easily share space with Frisell-like arabesques as Stermieri’s swells inspire De Rossi to climb over and above. Yes, you want this album.
ENG New York City Jazz Record, John Pietaro (jun.2020)