Cross-cultural fusions are not only common these days, they're de rigueur in some circles. It's always encouraging to see artists who are well-established and in their senior years throw caution to the wind and look for ways to keep their outlook fresh and invigorated.
Over the course of his seventy years, trombonist Roswell Rudd has worked in everything from straight-ahead jazz to Dixieland, although he's perhaps best known on the vanguard of the avant-garde. But in the early part of this decade he began looking for ways to blend his need for discovery with musicians from other cultures equally willing to bend the rules. MALIcool (Sunnyside, 2003), his collaboration with African kora master Toumani Diabate, demonstrated how music's universal language could transcend cultural myopia. This was Rudd's most accessible recording to date; its eminent danceability was even more evident in concerts that included an appearance at the 2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Once the project began to wind down, however, the question was: what next?
Concurrent with his exploration into the rhythms and harmonies of Mali, Rudd was already exploring other avenues when he met with two Mongolian throat singers in 2002. Rudd found an even more immediate connection with the throat singing tradition where, as with his own instrument, multiphonics suggest a bigger sound with harmonic overtones layering melodies over a bass fundamental. This meeting became the inspiration for Rudd's newest project, Blue Mongol, where he teams with a quintet of Mongolian instrumentalists and singers, exploring the nexus of blues with pentatonic music from the central Asian tradition.
The challenge, of course, is to create a cross-cultural blend that avoids triteness or contrivance. Like MALIcool, Rudd manages to stay honest for the most part, with the shtick of his "Buryat Boogie being the only major misstep. "American Round combining "Swing Low Sweet Chariot, "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, and "Amazing Grace into a lovely canonworks far better. Rudd's mellifluous horn blends seamlessly with Battuvshin Baldantseren's throat singing, Dmitry Ayurov's morin khur (horse head fiddle), Kermen Kalyaeva's lochin (dulcimer), and Valentina Namdykova's yatag (zither). Rudd's title track conjoins Badma Khanda's plaintive vocals and Baldantseren's limbe (flute) with Rudd's horn in a call-and-response that succeeds in making the world a smaller place.
But the most appealing material is from the Mongolian tradition, in particular where Ruddrather than being a strong lead voicemeshes more communally with the delicate textures of the traditional instruments. Still, his brash approach on "The Camel feels out of context, but on the melancholy "Behind the Mountain and gently beatific "Steppes Song, he's better aligned.
Blue Mongol, with its greater elegance and emotional depth, requires more inherent sensitivity than the upbeat MALIcool, making it a riskier proposition. And while it has a few disconnected moments, it succeeds more often than not, making it a worthwhile listen for those who believe music to be the voice that speaks to all cultures.
Visit Roswell Rudd on the web.
Personnel: Roswell Rudd: trombone, mellophone, and scat singing; Battuvshin Baldantseren: throat
singing, limbe (flute), ikh khur (horse head bass), khomus (jaw's harp); Badma Khanda:
vocals; Dmitry Kalyaeva: lochin (dulcimer), khalmyk dombra (lute); Valentina Namdykova: