Roswell Rudd: The Musical Magus Turns 75

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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However, much as Rudd puts his unique sound down to hearing the great vocalists, he might as well have included Charlie Parker and the musicians of the '40s as well in that group that influenced his approach to music. Central to all of which was Rudd's existence in every musical aspect of the sociological context. Although his musical output has been steady throughout his life so far, Rudd began to emerge from the shadows and burst onto the scene with his avowed allegiance to the free counterpoint of the '60s. His first foray during this heady period in modern American music came as a member of an ensemble fronted by Cecil Taylor and Buell Neidlinger, a bassist he met at Yale in 1961. The album, New York City R&B (1961), not one of Taylor's best-known, was produced by Nat Hentoff on his short-lived Candid label, but later also released on the Columbia imprint in 1971. It was an album full of textural brilliance with a rich nonet sound to which Rudd brought his characteristically "dirty" trombone.

Twenty years after he heard the harmonic and rhythmic sleight of hand practiced by The Yardbird, Rudd melded the advancements of bebop into his own playing by connecting the dots between bebop and later re-evaluations of it, by quite literally sifting through Parker's vocabulary that arose from European harmonic theoretical foundations melded together with African modal rhythmic ones. All this, of course swirling around in one heated cauldron that included Rudd's own ability to make the voice of human endeavor come alive through his trombone.

By this time, Rudd had all but completed his tumultuous dive into the fecund modern music scene in New York. He forged a highly productive relationship with musicians such as Cecil Taylor, John Tchicai, and Archie Shepp and, most enduring of all, with the soprano saxophonist, Steve Lacy. One of the first records that Rudd came to be recognized was Into the Hot (Impulse!, 1961), a seminal album made by Gil Evans. However, at that time in the '60s it was Archie Shepp who held court in the improvised music scene of that day, who was Rudd's most frequent employer. With Shepp, Rudd made a series of spectacular albums, beginning with Four for Trane (Impulse!, 1964), and also including the legendary set, Mama Too Tight.

The '60s was the first truly active period in Rudd's recording career. In addition to performances and albums he made with Archie Shepp, the trombonist also made his first album of Monk's music with one of his musical soul-mates, Steve Lacy. School Days (Hat Hut, 1963) began what would become the first of many performances of some of the finest repertory music of that (or any) other period in time. Both Lacy and Rudd were great admirers of Monk's music and would continue to play his charts regularly for more than a decade. Rudd would continue to play Monk's music, and later also revisit the music of his other idol, Herbie Nichols. But that first album of Monk pieces shared with Lacy would go on to become one of the landmark albums of its day and be reissued several times through the '70s in Europe, and even as recently as 2011 by the British imprint, Emanem.

During this time, Rudd also formed the New York Art Quartet, a floating outfit that included Tchicai, bassists Lewis Worrell and Reggie Workman, and percussionist, Milford Graves. Bernard Stollman, another seminal figure of that era, preserved some of Rudd's finest music on his ESP-Disk' label. Stollman also released New York Eye and Ear Control (1964), with three stunning tracks on an album that figured in the soundtrack of the eponymous film by the Toronto-based auteur, Michael Snow. This album was one that was led by the great Albert Ayler, but on which Rudd's guttural glissandi feature prominently, almost like a clarion call for that fertile era of improvised music.

Just as his voyage of musical discovery began in the '60s, Rudd's epic sonic journey seemed to crest for the first time in the '70s when he made a series of recordings with musicians who shared his sense of adventure. His albums with Charlie Haden, such as Liberation Music Orchestra (Impulse!, 1969) and with Carla Bley, including Dinner Music (Watt, 1977) and Musique Mechanique (Watt, 1979), featured stellar performances by the trombonist. His often aching sound made both Haden's great narratives all the more elementally sad, and his dramatic, sliding leaps created some of the more enduring passages in Bley's superb compositions. During this time, Rudd also made some of his most significant albums under his own name. His first magnum opus, Numatik Swing Band, made in 1973, was followed by Flexible Flyer (Black Lion, 1974), with magnificent vocalist Sheila Jordan, and he also reunited with Steve Lacy to make his other magnum opus, Blown Bone (Emanem, 1976).


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