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Live From New York

November 2004

By Published: November 5, 2004
The Pentatonics - led by the sweet and energetic, melodic folk singing of Badma-Khanda - are instrumentally comprised of Battuvshin Baldantseren on a bamboo cross/transverse flute known as the limbe, and traditional horse-head bass - a two-string instrument obviously related to what we know as the upright acoustic bass. In addition, he is a master of the quite literal jaw-dropping native Mongolian throat-singing technique (recently popularized by the Tuvan group Huun-Huur-Tu), at-times playing flute and singing simultaneously utilizing circular breathing inherent to both styles. Dmitry Ayurov played the quintessential Mongolian horse-head fiddle instrument known as the moriin khur, a traditional percussion two-string violin which resembled the sound of a cello rather than its smaller family member (though at times it must be said that the violin styling of Leroy Jenkins and his protégé Billy Bang were summoned on more than one occasion). And the "rhythm section", announced Rudd in half-jest, was comprised of a zither instrument known as the yatag performed by Valentina Namdykova, and hammered dulcimer (a traditional percussion violin called ioichin) played by Kermen Kalyaeva who also occasionally doubled on a traditional Himalayan guitaron-like instrument.

The beautiful wooden acoustic space graced not a single microphone or wire in an all-naturally amplified setting, as the Pentatonics performed an emotional opening set exploiting the acoustics. Highlighted by the circular breathing solo flute of Baldantseren - who astonished the packed house demonstrating his supernatural range and technique - along with harp- and koto-like zither, it was like an Alice Coltrane spiritual and musical sabbatical to Tuva of the aural senses. This only partially prepared the crowd for what the second set would bring, namely Roswell Rudd and the unprecedented, unparalleled, and most unique musical and cultural collaboration possibly in the history of "jazz" and certainly a notable one in music history as well. To fully bring that point home at the outset, Rudd even opened on the less boisterous French horn, an instrument I was aware of him playing but, of the countless times I've seen him, have never had the pleasure of hearing live. He would hold onto each note then crescendo them off similar to that of trumpeters Lester Bowie and Don Cherry.

The second tune, the appropriately titled "Horse no.2" (the Mongolian culture holds the horse - amongst nature and other animals such as the cow - in such high esteem as being so central to their way of life, that music so effectively reflects the sounds and spirit of the animal) featured Rudd on trombone ala plunger as the two musical worlds continued to successfully collide and fuse into a Mongolian hoedown of sorts, melding so naturally and - surprisingly - without noticeable compromise.

"Blue Mongol" featured a de-plungered Rudd on trombone (and vocals). "Everybody gets the blues," prefaced Rudd, revealing that the music form, or at least feel of the blues, is as universal as anything else. The dulcimer and zither were, in conjunction with one another, piano-like in their bluesy runs and interplay. And though it is obvious that Rudd is the official spokesperson and even leader of this magnificent entourage - being the most outspoken musically with his brass against the subtler string instruments - he consciously understated his delivery remaining part of the group mix without allowing his brassiness to interfere with the group concept as a whole. The American traditional "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" came off as if it had Mongolian brethren or at least a similar variation amongst the Buryat. The high and low-pitched overtones of the throat singer complemented Rudd, while the ioichin complemented and intertwined with zither, exchanging echoes back and forth especially towards the end with one picking up where the other left off, trading like two saxophonists exchanging musical fours.

The true aural and visual spectacle came when Rudd and Baldantseren took center stage to perform an unaccompanied duo improv that in moments ventured in and out of the blues. Both utilized overtones and a magnificent chemistry into a dream-like sequence of exchanges, combined harmonies, and multi-phonics. "It's a dream, a beautiful dream," Rudd exclaimed of this particular throat-singing/trombone collaboration. Baldantseren even utilized a jaw ("Jew's") mouth-harp while throat-singing over the rubber-band sound effect, as audience members' jaws noticeably dropped even closer to the ground in continuing astonishment at what was being witnessed.

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