The Motet continues to explore new territory | AspenTimes.com
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The Motet continues to explore new territory

Stewart Oksenhorn

A band that plays funk, rock and jazz, touched with a heavy accent of Latin rhythm, that taps into the rich Boulder music community, and that has knowledge in traditions but is unafraid to confront modern ideas would seem to have lots of ground to explore.

So it is for the Motet. The Colorado-based ensemble, founded two years ago by drummer Dave Watts, has released its second recording, “Play,” which stretches the ideas backward and forward, from Africa to Detroit to Cuba to New Orleans. The Motet celebrates its latest project with a CD release party tonight at Hannibal Brown’s.

The intent behind the Motet was always for flexibility of all kinds. When the band was created, Watts named it the Motet – rather than, say, the Dave Watts Quartet – so that club owners couldn’t complain if Watts appeared with a trio, or a septet. At times, as at the band’s Jazz Aspen Labor Day debut in 1999, the band could appear with numerous vocalists; other times, it was an entirely instrumental act. Sometimes there were guitars, sometimes there were horns. From one tune to the next, the Motet could resurrect the sound of Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters band, or Cuban dance band Los Van Van.

Over the past year, the Motet has solidified its lineup: The band has a regular roster of drummers Watts and Scott Messersmith, vocalist-percussionist Jans Ingber, guitarist Michael Tiernan, bassist Kurt Rieber and keyboardist Steve Vidaic. But “Play,” the follow-up to last year’s “Breathe,” shows a band very much continuing to extend its boundaries.

“Play” opens with the easy-going, old-school, New Orleans-style funk of “Chicken Scratch,” but with electronic noises backing up the weaving tenor sax and trombone. The song blends seamlessly into the smoother, more keyboard-oriented “Do What You Want,” which also features soul-style vocalizing.

“Madrina Ayudame” gets into a different place altogether, built only on percussions and voices, the Spanish lyrics sung by Ingber and a three-part female chorus in the African call-and-response style. “Minha Mae Ochunmare” also recalls Africa, but in an electric, Afro-pop fashion, before the song fades into silence, returning with a hip-hoppish ending. “Howard” comes from the new school of groove jazz, Greyboy All-Stars style.

Despite the variety of sounds and feels, “Play” never is disjointed. There is a vibe – rhythmic, smooth but with soul, uplifting – that winds its way into each tune. The Motet is a band designed to have a multitude of ideas, and on “Play,” a whole lot of them come shining through.


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