Russ Lossing

pianist . composer . improviser

Motian Music Reviews

Jazz Trail

Pianist Russ Lossing dabbles in the fascinating musical universe of Paul Motian, an artist he knew very well. For 12 years, they were friends and collaborators, and Lossing decided this was the time to honor the late genius whose tunes fall somewhere between the lyrical and the abstract. Paraphrasing the pianist: “this music plays itself.”

On Motian Music, his debut on Sunnyside, he teams up with longtime associates bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz, a pair of creative minds with an elevated rhythmic sensibility.

The first couple of pieces, “Asia” and “Abacus”, date from the late ’70s, but their shapes are unlike. The former, carrying some folk connotations and emotional grandeur, mirrors the splendor of this piano trio; in turn, the latter comes enveloped by a magnetic abstraction and instigates free exploration. During the first minutes, Mintz offers us tonality, having the round, somewhat pinched bass notes from Kamaguchi dancing at his side as well as Lossing’s resolute, if perplexing, melodic lines.

Both drummer and bassist do a great job throughout, but they are particularly in evidence on pieces like “Dance”, a permanent push-pull activity with Lossing’s fluid ideas floating atop, and “Mumbo Jumbo”, a three-way conversation characterized by a strong rhythmic temperament and some motivic impetuosity that never reaches a factual state of anxiety.

Originally included on Motian's album It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago (ECM, 1984), “Fiasco” and “Introduction” are tackled with tempo exemption, allowing lots of liberties in the harmonic and melodic demarcations. In the case of the first composition, things are stirred up with a swinging feel at once familiar and eccentric. Conversely, “Introduction” adopts a reserved posture and is extended to six minutes against the three of the original recording. Bright flashes of piano convey a weirdly dreamlike aura gently underpinned by airier inflections of bass and brushed drums.

The recording couldn’t have ended in a better way, with the seraphic “Psalm” expressing a levitating simplicity that touches the sublime. Without subverting the art of Motian, Lossing puts a personal touch in this startlingly intimate album. The results are more than satisfactory and fans of the drummer will instantly relate to the music.

All About Jazz

Feb 11. 2019

The late drummer Paul Motian left quite an imprint on the jazz world, with over one hundred compositions to his name, and numerous artists releasing covers of his songs, as well as tribute albums and performances since his passing in 2011. Some of those have included Jeff Cosgrove's self-released 2012 album For the Love of Sarah, the Carl Michel Group's Music in Motian (Play on Records, 2018), a string quartet release by Joel Harrison titled String Choir: The Music of Paul Motian (Sunnyside, 2011), as well as a 2012 Sunnyside solo tribute by pianist Russ Lossing titled Drum Music.

The effect his former colleague had on Lossing has clearly failed to diminish in the years since that previous tribute, as the entire length of Motian Music is comprised of songs originally composed by the late drummer, albeit with Lossing's personal touch. That touch often means sourcing Motian's original melody but improvising heavily around it. One such example of this is "Abacus," the second track on the album. At the thirty-second mark, the melody kicks in, easily singled out through the song's length. The trio plays in such a way however, that it seems as if Lossing is trying to communicate with the late drummers composition rather than simply playing it. Paul Motian once stated, "I like the way Russ Lossing plays my music" and it's easy to see why here. Rather than simply giving old tunes a modern update, he interprets them anew, most likely in ways neither his old friend nor even he himself could predict.

Russ Lossing's piano is very much the sound of a singular voice sculpted through his background of improvisational jazz and classical music. Bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz had recorded with Lossing for over a decade before this release, as early as 2007's Oracle (HatOLOGY). The effect this experience has had is that the trio is cohesive, never thrown off by their leader's unpredictable nature. Having played since age seven, he offers a clearly and confidently defined approach to his chosen instrument. One of a line of records inspired by Paul Motian but certainly not the last, Motian Music is a fitting and worthy tribute to one of jazz's most important and celebrated drummers.


Downbeat Magazine

March 2019

Russ Lossing

Motian Music


By Ed Enright

Paul Motian (1931–2011) wrote and recorded more than 100 original compositions during his long career as a drummer and bandleader. And he shared his tunes, notable for their singable melodies and rhythmically ambiguous forms, freely with his bandmates. One of those former bandmates is pianist Russ Lossing, who collaborated with Motian on several pieces in the drummer's oeuvre. Lossing's standing trio of 20 years with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz pays homage to Motian and his compositional concepts on this new recording of 10 Motian originals.

The group is a great fit for Motian's tunes, which are ripe for creative interpretation by their very nature. All three members demonstrate a unique ability to let the pieces sing for themselves and expand upon them in an organic way. The entire program was recorded live in the studio, all one-takes, in the order presented on the album. The musicians worked without any pre-set arrangements or discussions about the music—everything unfolds completely naturally, with a distinct free-jazz bent. Melodies—often played by Lossing in two-handed, multi-octave unison—and textures dominate the session. Harmony is mostly decorative and spontaneous, with the exception of a few instances where Motian wrote actual chord progressions. The music is by turns fluid and disjointed, booming and delicate, insistent and reflective. On this captivating recording, Lossing and company do a stellar job of illuminating the bare essence of Motian's idiosyncratic writing.

JAZZIZ Magazine


10 New Jazz Albums You Need To Know About: February 2019

by Matt Micucci

An adventurous drummer-led band celebrates 10 years of innovation; a saxophone icon makes his first foray into electronics; and a bright, impressionistic pianist celebrates the legacy of drummer Paul Motian. All that and more in this month's 10 Albums You Need To Know List.

Russ Lossing, Motian Music (Sunnyside Records)

Release date: February 22

On Motian Music, pianist Russ Lossing pays tribute to his former collaborator, drummer-composer Paul Motian and his brilliance at creating subtle, singable melodies and rhythmically ambiguous, floating forms. This album is a collection of Lossing's reinterpretations of some of Motian's most idiosyncratic pieces in a trio with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz. “I have played all of these pieces with Paul at some point in our twelve years of work and friendship,” he says via a press release. “There is something about his music, his melodic conception and rhythmic invention that just simply makes sense to me and I find his music very easy to play. Really, it plays itself.”

New York City Jazz Record (NYCJR)

March 2019

The late Paul Motian advised pianist Russ Lossing—

an associate and friend for over a decade—to keep it

simple when it came to harmonizing the drummer’s

tunes. That counsel has borne exquisite fruit in a pair

of recordings, this latest with Lossing’s working trio

(the first, Drum Song, was a solo piano recording, also

for Sunnyside). Here are ten subtle and fascinating

Motian pieces this trio seems to have in its blood.

For a gorgeous example of Motian’s writing,

opener “Asia” is quiet and hymn-like, deep and

contemplative. Bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer

Billy Mintz provide simple yet intimate accompaniment

while Lossing’s lines are elegant and the music is both

straightforward and intriguing. And that’s the story in

every track; even when the notes and directions of the

melodies are quirky and unusual, Lossing and his

associates imbue them with delicacy and grace.

“Fiasco” is the only tune repeated from the solo

album and it swings hard and direct, suggesting

resolute compositional structure. The interestingly

placed “Introduction” (the fourth track) inches forward

deliberately with Lossing and Kamaguchi striking

chords and notes with meticulous patience.

Highlighted in “Abacus” are bass and drums providing

dark underscoring to Lossing’s sense of abandon.

“Boomerang” floats nervously above a tenuous center

and, again, Kamaguchi and Mintz find the swing,

fragmented as it is.

There’s a lovely balance of peace and chaos

throughout. Knotty “Mumbo Jumbo” calls into play

Mintz’ mastery of the rhythms and Lossing shines in

how he too has mastered the late drummer’s

architecture. Kamaguchi, in a reserved manner,

introduces and supports the mysterious “Etude” while

Mintz gracefully helps Lossing find the subtle, almost

intangible melody of “Psalm”.

The way that this trio works together reveals that

it knows both its own sound and the mystery of

Motian’s music.

- byDonald Elfman

Step Tempest

What you might not know is that, as a young man, he studied with the avant-garde composer John Cage and what I did not remember until reading the liner notes of his new recording, "Motian Music" (Sunnyside), was his long and close relationship with drummer and composer Paul Motian. The drummer would invite him up to his New York City apartment to help work on his compositions plus recorded several excellent albums as a sideman with the pianist.  This tribute is a follow-up to Lossing's 2012 solo exploration of the late Motian's music "Drum Music" (also on Sunnyside).  For the new album, Lossing works alongside his rhythm section of the past two decades, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz.  

The intimacy of the music is underscored by the fact that the trio recorded in the same room and that each piece was recorded in one take. That can only happen if there is great trust among the participants as well as an intimate knowledge of the material. Listen as the trio wends its way through "Jack of Clubs", swings heartily on "Fiasco" and "Dance", and gently moves through "Introduction" (a piece from 1985's "It Should Have Happened Here", the first trio effort by Motian, guitarist Bill Frisell, and saxophonist Joe Lovano).  Kamaguchi has a deep bass sound and a great melodic sense while Mintz plays in the tradition of Motian, never overdoing anything, at times quiet as can be, and with excellent work on the cymbals.

"Motian Music" closes with the whisper-soft "Psalm" a piece so quiet at the outset one has to lean into the speakers. Soon, you can make out a melody from the piano as the bass plays a slow counter-point. The drums and cymbals color the piece as the music floats forward. The sounds seem to hang in the air, like early morning clouds on a Spring morning awaiting the sunrise.  A glorious ending to a splendid album of music. Russ Lossing's love and respect for Paul Motian the man and composer shines through every track - the listener is the beneficiary and, honestly, in these days of uncertainty and daily unkindness, one needs this music.

-  Step Tempest by Richards Kamins:

From the blog Shnaley on Music:

I've said this many times and, for that reason, this should probably be the last time it appears in print, true as it is: Paul Motian always seemed like he could express more feeling in one tap of the ride cymbal than most drummers could say in a whole solo. His approach to the drum kit sounded so personal, like thoughts flowing from the mind of a deep thinker.

By the same token, his compositions had much of that immediacy. They sprouted from the same focus on simplistic, but fertile, ideas. In Motian Music's liner notes, pianist Russ Lossing recounts the experience of reading through the drummer's compositions at his apartment as he finished them. "I play while he alternately hovers over me and walks around the apartment listening. 'It's slooooow,' he says... After I play the bare melody, Paul asks the inevitable question: 'What chords would you put under it?' A complicated question. to be sure; so many possibilities, so many directions."

Regardless of the possibilities, this set of of Motian's tunes gives credence to the idea that players shouldn't rush through the composition to focus on improvisation. In "Asia," which opens the album, Lossing doesn't stray far beyond the written theme. Instead, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz open up a little, while the pianist repeats the theme with a bit more emphasis each time. It's not exactly the approach Thelonious Monk took, but his likeminded idea of keeping the melody close at hand comes through.

Mintz adds some very Motian-esque cymbal taps in "Introduction" which underscores Kamaguchi's simple pulse and Lossing's melody. A whole track of this would be enough, but they open it up into a detailed three-way conversation. "Etude" also begins gently, with Kamaguchi playing the melody, before Lossing picks it up and the trio rolls into it thoughtfully. When the song reaches a climax, the trio sounds like they're leading to a roaring finale, only to pull back and end as gently as they begin.

In addition to producing a stellar set, the trio's work also left me wondering how these tunes sounded when Motian played them, a sign of quality in any tribute album.