Adam Rudolph with Hamid Drake and Yusef Lateef: Moving Pictures at UMass Amherst

Lyn Horton By

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Adam Rudolph: Moving Pictures
The Magic Triangle Series
Bowker Auditorium, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
February 28, 2008

It is a daunting task to shape a music that incorporates and combines the characteristics of traditional music from a wide range of cultures. For one thing, it is difficult to know how to choose. But, once orchestrated, the diversification of music making methods increases the satisfaction of listening to the final product because nothing seems to be missing: the experience is uncommonly satisfying and full. And for meeting the challenge of making appropriate choices, credit on this occasion goes to percussionist Adam Rudolph, whose octet named Moving Pictures, was created exclusively for performing this complex kind of music. The group performed the second concert in The Magic Triangle Series at UMass Amherst on February 28, 2008.

Rudolph's pursuit in his musical life has entailed the study of rhythmic networks throughout the world. And because he is astutely well-versed in the variations that rhythmic languages can have, he can integrate them so that they become one. He calls one synthetic approach to rhythm "cyclic verticalism" where, as he explained in a radio interview before the concert, he is interested in combining the variation within the repetition of rhythm cycles, predominantly in Asian cultures, and linear stacked polyrhythms, prevalent in African cultures. Rudolph also explained that the instrumentation and players change as his pieces for the group are written. He composes for the way in which particular instruments will contribute to a whole sound.

For this reason, the group really is a set of "moving pictures," a metaphor borrowed from the movies and especially descriptive of the changeable personnel. In this manner, Rudolph is constantly renewing the music as he renews the players. In this performance, strings and reeds were balanced in number as well as in impact: the instruments with the most outstanding voices were the reeds, the cornet and the flugelhorn. The percussion role was filled by the box drum, congas, djembe, and a trap set.

The concert opened with a piece whose overall structure seemed to reflect how rhythmic passages can be syntactically arranged to affect the way instruments work within it. But more than an academic performance, the piece was one big rhythmic "event."

Rudolph positioned himself in his own mixed conga and djembe line and, accompanied by both a bowed bass and brushed snare and toms, initiated a rumbling with his rapidly moving hands and fingers on the drumskins, which lured the participation of every person in the ensemble. Then the music rested for maybe half a count. That stark silence brought in the music that followed like a rush of air. A deep breath had been held before it was exhaled. As the box drum and drum set were operating with a steady pulse, a simple note phrase from the flugelhorn, synchronized with the clarinet, which together contrasted with glissandos on the electric guitar, processed the build-up to another rest. As if in a trance at the congas, Rudolph moved his hands rapidly on the drums—sufficient to retain the rhythmic spirit that was left behind for that one moment. The cornet entered both to underscore the just-completed direction of the music and to initiate the next development: a swing rhythm played by flute and clarinet, which process led up to another rest preceding another new direction.

The addition of each instrument—from the oud to the string bass to the brass again—in a stop/start phraseology thickened the density of the whole musical canvas while, at a more particularized level, the subsets of music between the rests increased in intensity. The brilliance of the clarinet was highlighted; the cornet sang songs, the bass and the guitar maintained a center. To move into the coda, the box drum chattered soft rhythmic gestures as the wooden flute piped in and an elbow-brush alternation on the trap set contributed a dry tone ushering in a hush. The first piece had come to an end.

A pattern, moreover, had been established for what was to come. Seven more compositions were performed, including "Walking the Curve" from the recording Dream Garden (Justin Time, 2007). Rudolph's reliance on an exacting sense of tempo and pulse as the basis for all musical production blossomed in his masterful way of inviting one instrument after another into the elegant mixture of exuberance and color. The reeds and horns harmonized, synchronized and improvised. The instruments wove in and out of the music with elegance and polish.

Rudolph's acumen in choosing instruments based on the outcome of their interaction was ever evident, the best qualities of the selected individual instruments manifested in their juxtaposition: the flute floated above the oud and bass and guitar; the flute and flugelhorn rang together in stellar synchrony; the bass clarinet exchanged phrases with a high-pitched guitar; the thumb piano danced with the box drum. The trap set was always in the background washing the sonic surface with sibilance or accenting the turns in the ensemble's dynamic textures. The bass and the guitar worked together to create a two-note drone; the guitar often became a liquid voice with the chorus of instruments. In one piece, the shakuhachi breathed atmospheric elements as if the warm wind were blowing through the greenest of jungle foliage. The cornet often stood alone, breaking through any existing instrumental textures with the brightness of its vibratos and runs.

Apart from being highly organized compositions, what also made this music extraordinary was the attention Rudolph brought to every instrument. When each soloed, the focus of the music was pulled into a point so that the audience was pinned to the singularity of that expression of musical character. When the solos finished, the points then dissolved, and the remaining instruments progressively re-entered to join the community led by the same steady rhythmic support that had pushed any one of the featured instruments into the foreground in the first place. It was if perspective lines were being continually drawn to and from vanishing points and the space between the lines was replete with positive force.

Mid-concert, Rudolph jostled some strung-together seed pods, and the oud curled the percussive gist. Multi-instrumentalist and composer, the legendary Yusef Lateef (with whom Rudolph has recorded and performed many times and who also has been a valued professor at UMass) sat at center stage and played a short, stout, wooden flute. Then, he recited a poem which presented thoughts ranging from the aesthetic to the moral, dwelling on extraction from suffering and the purity of love. The piece closed as the tom, the congas, and Lateef's flute together portrayed the sound of a ticking clock. The music, the words and the moment brought us closer to our next moments in life—prompting recognition, that we have only one life and that it is potentially good and full and filled with kindness.

If there is any reason at all to think of a world at peace and working within its planetary limits, Adam Rudolph's music is a sterling metaphor for cross-cultural balance and integrated existence. It may reflect a mere handful of cultures, but in their blending is something universal and inclusive; no one culture is opposing another, except in complementary waves of rhythmic and melodic counterpoint.

Personnel: Graham Haynes, cornet and flugelhorn; Steve Gorn, shakuhaatchi, flutes and reeds; Ned Rothenberg, flutes and reeds; Brahim Fribgane, oud and percussion; Kenny Wessel, guitar; Shanir Blumenkrantz, bass; Hamid Drake, percussion; Adam Rudolph, percussion.

Photo credit Lyn Horton

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