Roswell Rudd: New York Art Quartet & New York Eye and Ear Control
New York Art Quartet
Trombonist Roswell Rudd seemed to enter jazz from the past and the future. Rudd worked in Greenwich Village Dixieland bands in the late '50s and it was there that he first became associated with Steve Lacy and Herbie Nichols, rapidly moving to the burgeoning avant-garde of the early '60s. He quickly emerged as the first trombone voice of the new music, eschewing the rapid-fire staccato of the JJ Johnson school for the broadly expressive, vocalic gestures of traditional jazz and swing, ranging from the gutbucket of Kid Ory to the finesse of Jack Teagarden and Bill Harris. Among his most productive associations were those with Lacy (a co-led quartet specializing in Monk repertoire) and one with Archie Shepp. Perhaps Rudd's most creative partnership, though, was that with the Danish alto saxophonist John Tchicai. The two embodied marked stylistic contrasts: Rudd emotive, whether, lachrymose, exuberant or broadly comic; Tchicai with a minimalist and almost desiccated line, reducing jazz improvisation to a series of brilliant Beckett-like gestures. With the stunning young drummer Milford Graves, their New York Art Quartet was one of the most original ensembles to emerge from free jazz, a thoughtful extension of Ornette Coleman's quartets with a conversational dynamic and a gift for sudden shifts in voice and mood.
Their first eponymous LP on ESP, from November 1964, was a brilliant introduction. Emphasizing Rudd's compositions, each theme statement plays off the dance of the contrasting ranges and timbres, while each soloist engages Graves' polyrhythmic fields in his own way, the drummer responding with an amazing continuous commentary, the sounds anchored by bassist Lewis Worrell's emphasis on a strummed lower register and a vestigial walking bass. Apart from the quality of the music, the LP has always been noteworthy for Amiri Baraka's reading of his knife-edged poem "Black Dada Nihilismus".
The Rudd/Tchicai conversation is also evident on New York Eye and Ear Control, an earlier 1964 recording and a landmark in collective improvisation. The band was a sextet assembled by artist Michael Snow to record a film soundtrack, with Albert Ayler (tenor), Don Cherry (trumpet), Gary Peacock (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums). The group makes some casual use of Ayler's themes, but it otherwise stretches the boundaries of group improvisation, featuring continuous collective dialogue in a way that's even looser than Ornette Coleman's 1960 landmark Free Jazz. While the Ayler trio with Peacock and Murray ensures a kind of cohesion, the recording seems to prefigure significant partnerships: both the New York Art Quartet and the Ayler Quartet with Cherry that toured Europe two months later. There are fascinating interior dialogues between those who seemingly favor prophecy (Rudd and Ayler) and those asides (Cherry and Tchicai), while there's a fine moment midway through the 23-minute "ITT" when Rudd, Tchicai and Ayler each find an individual phrase to repeat structurally, a kind of manic update on the riffing style of the Count Basie band.
Tracks and Personnel
New York Art Quartet
Tracks: Short; Black Dada Nihilismus; Sweet; Rosmosis; Untitled; No. 6.
Personnel: Roswell Rudd: trombone; John Tchicai: alto saxophone; Lewis Worrell: bass; Milford Graves: percussion; Amiri Baraka, recitation (track 2 only).
New York Eye and Ear Control
Tracks: Don's Dawn; A Y; ITT.
Personnel: Albert Ayler; tenor saxophone; Don Cherry: trumpet, cornet; John Tchicai: alto saxophone; Roswell Rudd: trombone; Gary Peacock: bass; Sunny Murray: drums.