Life-changing albums: Paul Motian Band ‘Psalm’

Guitarist Jakob Bro talks about the album that changed his life, Psalm, by Paul Motian Band. Interview by Brian Glasser

‘I could have chosen Miles’ Four and More or Coltrane’s Live at Birdland – they were the first records where I realised how music can become a part of you if you learn how to listen – to feel part of it, as if you were actually inside there. That was why I started to become serious with music, and how it became the thing I started searching for all the time. But in the end, my choice has to be Psalm, by Paul Motian.

I was around 18, and I was playing more traditional jazz guitar at that time. Then I got involved with two young musicians who were listening a lot to hip hop music, as well as Wayne Shorter and Coltrane – some different styles! In other words, while I was listening to music from the 1930s and 1940s, they were listening to stuff from the 1960s and 1970s. One of those guys started listening to Paul Motian, and I heard this album through him.

Compositionally, soundwise, and in so many other ways, it changed everything for me. Even though I didn’t get it at first! I thought it was difficult to relate to this new music with my instrument – as opposed to Charlie Christian or Barney Kessel. At the start, I just heard the first song and didn’t understand. Compositionally, it has a super-simple melody. Paul is playing bells, Bill [Frisell] is playing with the synth sound. I thought, ‘Is this jazz music, or what?’ I didn’t listen to the rest straightaway. But I bought the CD from a good jazz store in Copenhagen that’s still there. I just kept listening to the first song and got used to the sound. I carried on composing and practicing and playing; and every once in a while, I found that I was drawn to that sound. I would go back and listen – and still not be ready! Then at some point – maybe a year later – I went back and the timing was right; suddenly I saw it. Now I think that the spirit in this record is an expression of Paul’s whole career.

I love Frisell obviously, but at that time I didn’t really think of his playing on that record as a guitar. I’ve never sat down and transcribed any of his playing on that album. It was just part of the overall sound for me; and it was that sound, of the group, that I was inspired by. And I just love Lovano – he’s one of my biggest heroes. I actually think I’ve listened more to horn players than guitar players.


‘He showed me how to go from song form and into harmony. I hadn’t heard that anywhere else’


The other main reason I chose this record is because later I got to know Paul in New York and worked with him, and his influence has been so big on my music. I went to New York mainly to be able to see Paul play – I didn’t dream of playing with him. I became friends with many of the musicians in his Electric Bebop Band. I took some lessons with Steve Cardenas, and met up with Chris Cheek, and became friends with Kurt Rosenwinkel. And all of that was to learn and get closer to the source, in a way. Sort of out of the blue, I suppose because I knew all the musicians around him, I was the one that got recommended when a vacancy came up. So I sort of engineered it, a little bit – I tried to be around it as much as I could – but as much for my learning process as anything else.

Paul’s way of putting bands together, of sort of creating a family of the musicians he’s working with, was very inspiring to me. Also his way of writing opened up a lot of things. He showed me how to go from song form and into harmony. I hadn’t heard that anywhere else. Then there’s the way he kept trying his compositions in new settings later on in life. He kept developing his music and none of the stuff he did earlier ever became stale, it was always fresh. That’s all very, very inspirational.

He was a step on a ladder for me. My way into ECM, to get to make records on that label, was because of Paul. I was very sad when he died, of course. I still don’t really believe that it’s happened. I had a period of time with him – I toured with him and recorded with him, and that was a highpoint for me. Actually, it has been the most important meeting for me in my musical life; and that’s non-changeable.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Jazzwize magazine. To find out more about subscribing, please visit: Subscribe

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