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Roswell Rudd: The Musical Magus Turns 75

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Another all but ignored masterpiece of that period is Eventuality, the record that Rudd made with the saxophonist, Charlie Kohlhase. This album featured some of Rudd's compositions that have not often made it to album, but are wonderful studies in the career of the trombonist and composer. During the same time, Rudd also reconnected with his old employer, Archie Shepp, making Live in New York an album that brimming with the energy of both musicians in a memorable setting. Rudd revisited Nichols again when he recorded Sexmob with Dime Grind Palace (Ropeadope), in 2003. But his greatest series of recordings had only just begun during the new millennium.

Late in the '90s, Rudd formed an enduring relationship with the enigmatic Verna Gillis and Soundscape. Gillis, who credited Rudd with being her mentor in the vast ocean of ethnomusicology, fulfilled the trombonist's enduring dream of visiting Africa on a musical adventure. MALIcool (Sunnyside, 2003)—Rudd's extraordinary collaboration with the Malian kora legend, Toumani Diabate—was the first in the Soundscape series that Rudd made under Gillis' brilliant production. This virtual tour de force recalls the mighty cultural collisions featuring Pharoah Sanders and Maleem Mahmoud Ghania, and Ornette Coleman's West African sojourns as well.

MALIcool features Rudd's superb composition, "Bamako," for the first time. The song is a soulful tribute to the city of Diabate's birth, where the two musicians met and recorded. Its singular melody is one that seduces the mind's ear and winds its way into the heart remaining there to be sung, unprompted, as if by magic. Throughout the album, the music is infused with the near-mystical interweaving of Rudd's blues and majesty of Diabate's Malian folk music. The compositional credits are shared by the two musicians and in one of the finest moments of the album, Diabate and Rudd recast a classic Monk chart, "Jackie-ing," where kora and trombone carry on a magnificent, angular exchange as chorus after chorus of Monkisms unfold with rare beauty.

Rudd began to soar ever after. The West African album was followed up with another superb one featuring the great Mongolian throat-singer, Tuvsho (Battuvshin Balansteren) and The Mongolian Buryat Band. On Blue Mongol (Sunnyside, 2005), Rudd continued his global odyssey with Verna Gillis. Here arrangements of traditional music from East of the Urals sways with rhythmic abandon alongside Rudd's compositions created especially for the set. Charts such as "Blue Mongol" share the spotlight with traditional wonders such as "The Camel," soaring with magisterial abandon as Rudd's swaggering trombone melds with the guttural melodism of Tuvsho's throat singing. The musicians also surprise even themselves with a stellar medley of classic Americana: "American Round" features a surprisingly beautiful string of melodies including "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer" and "Amazing Grace." The album concludes with an unforgettable version of Rudd's composition, "Honey On The Moon."

Rudd's next stop was Latin America. His collaboration with the Puerto-Rican cuatro player, Yomo Toro and a large ensemble, together with Bobby Sanabria and Ascension and sees the trombonist taking the plunge in too the world of merengue, son, cumbia and danzon. El Espiritu Jibaro (Soundscape, 2007) features a spirited version of Rudd's classic ballad, "Loved by Love." The chart is given a rousing gospel treatment by vocalist Alessandra Belloni. It was Rudd's uncanny way of putting a traditional form of music together with a musician of unspoken beauty—in this case vocalist Belloni—that characterized his work of this period. The musical instinct and breadth of knowledge of both Rudd and Gillis also contributed to making this album one that will remain a stellar project beloved by both the American and the Latin American musical worlds. The inimitable talents of Cuban tres player, David Oquendo, also make their first appearance in this album. Rudd later joined forces with Oquendo to make another memorable Latin music album, Encuentro (Mojito), but this album never made it to the Soundscape series, and had to wait until 2008 until it was independently released.


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