Festival International de Jazz de Montreal: July 2-5, 2010
Operating under mentor Don Cherry's belief that "Style is the death of creativity," percussionist Adam Rudolph has, for over 30 years, explored the world's music, attempting to understand the underlying principles that dictate how it is expressed and received. Rudolph's studies in Ghana and North India were powerful influences on his early development, and the Mandingo Griot Society, which Rudolph founded with the Gambian kora griot Foday Musa Suso, helped pioneer the fusion of West African music and jazz. Rudolph also recorded the first fusion of American and Gnawa (Moroccan) music with sintir player and singer Hassan Hakmoun. Rudolph is so much more than a "world music innovator," however, as his best music seems to defy any such categorization altogether. In understanding music according to its most basic qualityvibrationRudolph has transcended the restrictions of style, even of harmony and rhythm, to create performances of rare mystery, beauty, and surprise.
Rudolph's Moving Pictures ensemble, whose lineup has traditionally included Hamid Drake, Federico Ramos, and Oguri, here performed at the GESÙ Centre de Créativité, a dark and intimate performance hall. This formation of the sextet featured Rudolph (udu drum, hand drums, thumb pianos, talking drum, bendir, selya flute, balafon, brekete, tajida, naqqara), Kenny Wessel (electric guitar, banjo), Ralph Jones (acoustic electric bass), Brahim Fribgane (percussion, oud), Graham Haynes (trumpet, flugelhorn, bamboo flutes), and Ralph Jones (reeds and woodwinds).
Rudolph opened the performance with four quick conga hits, counting off the dense, layered percussion foundation of "Oshogbo." The horns outlined the composition with asymmetrical hits while Wessle complimented with electric guitar swells. The band took turns improvising in and on top of Fripgane and Rudolph's orchestra of percussion, the music moving as much vertically as horizontally. Rudolph stood at center stage behind a half moon of free-standing percussion, lighting a fire under his ensemble. Dramatically, as the groove then seemed all but unbreakable: silence. The sextet's use of the newfound space was magnificent. The ensemble quietly explored new textures and broken rhythms, navigating the silence with controlled assurance. This contrast with the preceding activity colored the silencea critical component to the music. Don Cherry again, as he once spoke to Rudolph: "You have to respect the silence before you can respect the sound." These variations of density and depth of sound, performed with such spontaneity, were a great surprise and pleasure to experience.
The disjointed chromaticism of Wessle's electric guitar seemed at first a bizarre contrast to the more organic-sounding bamboo flutes and percussion. But in short time his role gained clarity, and his harmonic sophistication proved an indispensable piece of the whole. The Cassablancan Fripgane was also a major discovery. His oud was magisterial, to say nothing of his versatility. Possessing a seemingly endless supply of ideas, Fripgane's lengthy oud improvisation provided the meat of the unnamed 20-30 minute composition that climaxed the performance. Behind Fripgane, the ensemble moved deftly in and out of time, questioning the very nature of it. Finally, Harris delivered a triumphant repeating figure on bass that the horns later doubled, sending Fripgane's statement to its conclusion.
This was, however, foremost an ensemble performance. The major individual solos, fine though they were, never overtook the shared musical vision, as on the closing "Dance Dream Part III." Ralph Jones called the band to performance with a ringing wood flute solo, using a wide palette of multiphonics and other extended techniques. Wessle moved to banjo, adding a new timbre to the ensemble, and the moments of country-western-style finger picking made a terrific counterpoint. As the band shifted identities around him, Jones took up his soprano for a monstrous soloone of the finest individual contributions of the nightthat burned a hole right through the wall of percussion Rudolph had built. The real drama, however, was in the movement of the ensemble. Rudolph directed his band with a mix of musical and visual cues, building rhythmic and harmonic density out of empty space before clearing out completely, allowing Jones to switch directions again in a series of unaccompanied improvisations.
Rudolph's Moving Pictures was certainly among the most genuinely surprising performances in Montréal. Not every piece so rode the sky"Six Sided" felt rather shapeless as the band rose and fell over an unappealing looped electric guitar phrase. But this is hardly what sticks in memory. Instead, it is the mystery of the music, the group's clarity of purpose, and the joy of hearing something profound. Moving Pictures left the audience refreshed, believing again in the endless possibilities of improvisational music.