The Motion Carries

With traditional songs and improvisational marketing, the local Motion Poets are bringing old jazz to new fans

Yet, with two well-received albums on the local Igmod label (including their 1995 debut under the moniker Little Big Band) and a substantial local following, the group has assailed the jazz world at large by adopting a very indie-rock approach to getting the word out. "What we're doing is so incredibly similar to so many rock bands," Little says. "We get in a van, and we play our shows, and we put out our own records. And if no one wants to sign us, well..." he pauses. "Whereas a typical jazz band plays the Dakota or Artists' Quarter once or twice a month and then plays jobbing dates and that sort of thing."

If Happy Apple (whose "energy" Bates admires) has won its avid local following by augmenting prog-rock-tinged jazz fusion with ingratiating onstage high jinks, the Motion Poets have gone in another direction, deploying the quiet, yet self-reliant practices of '80s garage bands, whose sound Bates admits he can't tolerate. But unlike bands that share their promotional proclivities--jazz-funkers Medeski, Martin, and Wood or post-Tortoise musicians Isotope 217--the Motion Poets plainly do not cross over.

At their best they don't so much reinvent or even recast, as rediscover. What comes across is the joy of hearing someone else's conversion experiences. As any garage-rocker will tell you, that feeling isn't specific to jazz. It's what has inspired anyone who ever tried to reproduce a hero's magic--who ever tried to make it new. And it speaks volumes to anyone who can identify with the evangelical anger of jazz writer Garry Giddin's plea for fin de siècle common sense: "Old guys, yes! Retro, never!" And young old guys--that's probably OK, too.

 

Motion Poets play February 5 and 6 at the Dakota Bar & Grill; (651) 642-1442.

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