The Motet Mantra: ‘Music for Life’
In April 2004, The Motet recorded their fourth album, Music for Life, and the first of a trio of albums that would define the band’s sound during that period; Instrumental Dissent was a 2006 release, followed by Dig Deep in 2009. There was also a DVD, Shine, recorded Halloween 2004 as the band paid tribute to Herbie Hancock.
Since then, the Denver-based Motet have expanded their repertoire, adding more straight-up funk to their outstanding jazz offerings, first with vocalist Jans Ingber and currently with Lyle Divinsky.
When Music for Life came out in July of 2004, I had a weekly jazz show on WUSF 89.7 in Tampa, and the staff loved it and played it often. One late Sunday evening, I had just played “The Magic Way” from the album when I got a phone call from the man who ran the State Theater (of blessed memory) in St. Petersburg. He said, “I love them. They played here last month.” WHAT? The interwebs in their relative infancy didn’t always ensure that we knew all of the shows in the area. WELL, RATS.
Fast-forward to Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival 2013. I had paid for a VIP ticket, which entitled me to eat meals along with the performers. I was sitting at a table with four Brits, too dense to realize at the time they were, in fact, The New Mastersounds. At one point, Joe Tatton got up and came back several minutes later. “I’ve been stealing ideas from The Motet table,” he announced with a grin.
The Motet table! I got up, walk over, and politely asked, “Is this the Motet table?” They smiled and acknowledged that it was. I then explained that I had been waiting nine years for the opportunity to see them live. They were extremely cordial. Since then, I’ve enjoyed their performances at AURA Music and Arts Festival, Magnolia Fest, Jam Cruise, and even twice at the State Theater.
But Music for Life is a thing apart, just a brilliant recording. This album is all instrumental, outstanding jazz and Afrobeat in a perfect blend. The Motet has had numerous personnel changes; the one unifying theme has been drummer Dave Watts, who also does much of the song-writing. On this album he wrote six of the eight compositions.
At this point, The Motet were: Dave Watts, drums; Mark Donovan, guitar; Garrett Sayers, bass; Dominic Lalli, tenor saxophone; Greg Raymond, keyboards; Scott Messersmith, percussion; and special guest Jon Stewart, alto saxophone. Sayers has been in the band with Watts ever since. And Raymond wrote the other two songs on the album.
Note: After leaving this edition of The Motet, Dominic Lalli went on to found Big Gigantic and has been thrilling audiences across the country ever since. One more thing: Music for Life was issued on Harmonized Records, the outstanding small label associated with Leeway’s Home Grown Music Network.
Music for Life
Straight out of the gate are two superb Afrobeat songs. “Cheap Shit” is an homage to Fela Kuti; the band would later cover his “Expensive Shit” on Dig Deep. After the brief intro, Donovan’s guitar and Raymond’s organ, often with that Farfisa sound, make the direction of the song clear. Make that double for Watts on drums and Messersmith on percussion. The saxophones are in glorious harmony before Lalli takes a fine tenor solo, the organ swirling up from below. Raymond also takes a lovely electric piano solo.
“Power” is precisely what is on display on the second track. Guitar, then percussion, and organ fall in, and they’re off to the races when Sayers and Watts step in. The saxes do their thing. The choruses are amazing. Raymond has a brief solo, followed by Stewart with an alto solo. Sayers solos over Lalli’s repetitive theme, and Messersmith takes a turn. Raymond returns for a longer solo, all the while propelled by Watts at kit, before they come back to the head.
The Motet then shift to fusion funk for “Black Hat,” a mid-tempo tune. Donovan has a nice short solo early on, followed by Sayers and Lalli. Halfway through, the tempo changes to a deliberate thump courtesy of Sayers and Watts. Raymond fires up his synths, then switches to electric piano. Next is a long, thoughtful guitar outing from Donovan that fades out as organ carries the song to its conclusion with some space space bass near the end, and it slides immediately into “The Magic Way.”
The pace is effortless and slow, saxophones slightly distorted over the relaxing vamp. The chorus threatens to speed up but settles back. All the while, Watts and Messersmith are laying the groundwork for an explosion. Synths have a workout. There is an entire mood shift at 3:15 as the pace accelerates and synths again emerge, answered by the saxes. The explosion begins at 5:34, announced by Sayers’ bass line and everybody. And it takes full form after Watts kicks it at 6:40. What a fabulous groove! The cymbals are amazing. Lalli stretches out on the deep, deep groove. Finally, they bring the groove back down to its initial pace.
That glorious Farfisa organ sound opens “Fearless,” another Afrobeat song. Donovan and Sayers are killing this mid-tempo song, the saxes again in lockstep. Featured are Raymond (organ), Lalli, Messersmith, then Donovan. The saxes are gorgeous together near the end over synths.
“Corpocratic” has a feel similar to “The Magic Way” in its groove segment. Sax, bass, and drums open the conversation, followed by some trippy electric piano and chunky guitar. The theme is sheer beauty, the groove irresistible. The saxes wrangle a bit before synth and guitar step in. Sayers takes a turn before a longer synth solo, Watts guiding the groove. Sayers romps over electric piano before they take it back to the theme. WOW!
There’s a bluesy funk feel to “What’s the Purpose,” sax and synths intertwined. Lalli’s solo is straight-up blues bar-walker stuff. The song takes a cool turn midway to a choppy, funky groove. Raymond’s synths, Lalli’s modified tenor, and Donovan’s clean Grant Green-like picking take turns.
The last track, “Them or Us,” takes us back to Fela Kuti territory once again. Percussion, then guitar, and organ set up the rhythm section. The syncopation here is dynamite. Lalli’s solo is inspired, as is Donovan’s. This groove puts the perfect cap on a perfect album.