Music

Paul Motian Trio: I Have the Room Above Her

Robert R. Calder

Dreamland is the title of the last track here and the location of most performances, Motian tossing and turning on drums, while Frisell is often amazingly lyrical, Lovano likewise. A lot of purposeful free playing and some not remote from the ballad work.


Paul Motian Trio

I Have the Room Above Her

Label: ECM
US Release Date: 2005-02-08
UK Release Date: 2005-01-31
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The Motian-Frisell-Lovano trio reconvenes from time to time without predictable outcome. I heard them live in Germany seven years back in a mainly Monk programme -- the date was Friday 13th, and Lovano stormed like Coleman Hawkins' blazing best. This set's very different, other than the title track, a Jerome Kern ballad played wonderfully in somewhat out of tempo fashion, every tune is Motian's -- if such a melodic fragment at "Osmosis Pt. III" can be called a tune. A lot of this set is free jazz trying both to make sense and be beautiful. Even a near miss might be worth praise, that objective being both so distant and so difficult of attainment.

The performances are more logical than some Motian has led or participated in on disc this past year -- I've not heard every new issue with Motian but four at least have crossed my path since mid-2004. Here he thrashes and churns, which he can and does do quietly when required, rather than apply physically more economical means of generating the polyvalent patterns which commonly do hold together performances in which he takes part.

The opening couple of tracks are echoey with Frisell's guitar in harp or quiet chiming territory. On the third, "Odd Man", Lovano's tenor playing is lively but gentle, and Motian is all over his drum kit, and if his dynamic control allows him to sound like distant thunder he's nonetheless thundering. The guitarist and tenorist play prettily, not for the last time here, and not for the last time there's a folk melody, simple lyrically poignant phrases.

"Shadows" brings more turbulence from Motian, but balmy guitar with echo and even pussycat velvety Lovano, remarkably tender in his horn's upper register, suspending high notes but also having the occasional purr below. The title track is from Jerome Kern and Lovano is at his most caressing, playing in a style more commonly to be associated with unaccompanied solo performance. He doesn't stray far from the outline of variations on the melody, but there are no bar-lines. Motian plays cross-rhythms -- cymbals and brushes -- and Frisell shadows. This might be an attempt to present a model of what Motian wants done with hisown very bitty compositions. It's an unusual ballad masterpiece on a level with anything done on Motian's On Broadway sets or the recent sets with George Mras and Hank Jones.

"Osmosis Pt, I" is pretty well New Age meditation music, complete with another neo-folk maybe slightly neo-Celtic tune,. Frisell in mandolin and dulcimer land, with cymbals and soft saxophone. "Dance" takes Lovano back up to the top of his horn, there's unison work with Frisell and some free playing. There is an interesting attempt really to swing without bar-lines and a chorus structure. This item rises to a really very good ending

That's the way this set goes, Lovano conjuring melodic lines over at times nearly (but never quite) hyperactive cymbal-work and drumming. The vulnerable entry, vocally poignant, Frisell's guitar in affectionate rapport and in the later numbers the lyrical contrast to all that sounding drum and cymbal really getting somewhere.

"The Riot Act" is slightly reminiscent of an Albert Ayler performance, though Ayler could never play like Lovano. There's a strange alternation between New Age lyricism and the noise of tons of metal sheering, in the guitar contributions. Frisell, if you don't know, has the apparatus to give his axe a sort of organ power. "The Bag Man" has a similar start but more fragmentation, and then yet another of those simple small themes. The alternation of duo interactions builds here to another climax, in the still small theme -- Frisell switches betwixt bass guitar and melodica sounds. "One in Three" seems to be about the harmony of the spheres, the music is at least as astral as Sun Ra's outer-spaced stuff. Did Motian ever thrash more, did Frisell ever make more beautiful noises -- even without, as here, doing it at the same time, and with Lovano's astonishing warmth present too?

On the closer, "Dreamland", a fragmented ballad, Motian tosses and turns and in his pursuit of tender poignancy Lovano comes close to the sound of Lester Young. I am aware that Stanley Crouch invokes the name of Lester Young in the liner to a recent Charles Lloyd album: and is there talking nonsense again. Lovano is however always the very real thing.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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