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Recorded in March 1976 (with an unreleased interlude from 1967 added here) and only ever released in Japan in 1979, this album is a little lost gem. Unusually for an Emanem release, it features not free improv but straight-ahead jazz. This album is labelled "File under: Jazz (Free/Blues/Latin) not a common designation for the label.
Central to the album's success are the quality of the band and the quality of Rudd's writing and arranging. The band brims over with talent; fortuitously, all the players were in New York City at the time. Probably most noteworthy is the reunion of Rudd with Steve Lacy for the first time since their classic 1963 recording School Days. Lacy and Rudd lead the lineup of soloists. Lacy is in superb form, full of surprising twists, turns, slurs and leaps, but never losing the logic and forward momentum of any solo. However, that is the tip of the iceberg. Every member of the band is on top form; no one disappoints.
Rudd's writing strikes a fine balance between tight ensemble playing and looser space for soloing, so that this does not sound like a band just assembled for one session, more like a working group. The opening and closing tracks, each over eleven minutes long, are both delightful, as the band relishes the time and space to cut loose and blow.
Listening to the album, more than a few times I was reminded of a Mingus groupthe mixture of loose but funky arrangements allied to great solo playing, mournful blues and an ever-present sense that anything could be about to happen next. (And then it does, in the shape of a classic blues vocal performance, "Cement Blues, from Louisiana Red!) Several fine driving bass solos from Wilbur Little serve to reinforce the Mingus feeling.
The last four tracks form the title suite about New York City itself. The driving, rhythmic "Blown Bone" is followed by "Cement Blues, then the restrained and atmospheric "Street Walking, before the climax of the suite and the album, "Bethesda Fountain. The closer is driven by a compulsive Latin rhythm that serves as a springboard for a procession of taut, pithy solos. Rudd leads off, closely followed by Tyrone Washington's tenor and then Kenny Davern's clarinet. An electric piano solo from Patti Bown is something of a period piece, before a percussion workout leads into an ensemble section that is controlled anarchy, bringing the album to a suitably thrilling end.
Impressively, this album manages to integrate seemingly diverse elements into a coherent and highly listenable totality.
Track Listing: Its Happening; Blues for the Planet Earth; You Blew It; Long Hope; Blown Bone; Cement Blues;
Street Walking; Bethesda Fountain.
Personnel: Roswell Rudd: trombone, mbira, sanza, miscellaneous percussion, piano (4); Steve Lacy (not 4):
soprano saxophone, miscellaneous percussion; Wilbur Little (not 4): double bass; Paul Motian (not 4):
drum set; Enrico Rava (1, 2, 3): trumpet; Sheila Jordan (2, 3): voice; Kenny Davern (5, 6, 7, 8): clarinet, soprano
saxophone; Tyrone Washington (5, 6, 7, 8): tenor saxophone; Patti Bown (5, 6, 7, 8): electric piano; Louisiana
Red (6): electric guitar, voice; Jordan Steckel (8): bata drum; Robin Kenyatta(4): alto
saxophone; Karl Berger (4): vibraphone; Lewis Worrell (4), Richard Youngstein (4): bass;
Horace Arnold (4): drums.