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Paul Rutherford: Tetralogy (1978-82)

John Eyles By

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As Joni Mitchell wrote, you don't what you've got till it's gone. So it has proved with legendary trombonist and euphonium player Paul Rutherford. A massive void has been left since his sudden death in August 2007. Sad to think we'll never see his walrus moustache and distinctive red braces again, listen to his ever-sensible views on the state of the world or hear him live as he conjures an affecting solo performance from thin air. That is why this double CD, containing four previously unissued sessions, is such a pleasure: a solo set including electronics and quartet date, both from 1981 and recorded in concert in London; a 1978 solo set recorded in concert in Pisa, and a 1982 trio studio date from London. Together they give a good impression of Rutherford's talents and the breadth of his musical vision. In a 2006 AAJ interview, Rutherford said: "Martin Davidson [of Emanem] is responsible for bringing out whole loads of stuff that's never been released before. Martin's an absolute diamond in the music—he's great, he's fantastic."

The opening solo set with electronics makes a fascinating period piece. By today's standards, the electronic tones sound primitive but have a naive charm—on a par with basic sine wave generators or the dreaded Stylophone. They can be something of a distraction, and are not missed when they are absent. In 1981, however, improvising with any electronics was bold, innovative stuff and here it brings out Rutherford's best—playing rich and complex enough to outweigh any misgivings as he occasionally complements his trombone and euphonium with vocal sounds and tambourine in a warm, free-flowing set.

From the same month, an all-brass quartet adds a second trombone plus tuba and French horn. Opening with solo trombone, there is soon a wealth of detail as all four instruments contribute to a soundscape in which it becomes impossible to tell who's who as the instruments overlap and move around. It is not all full-on stuff, though; there are occasional duets from every possible pairing, as well as solo passages from each artist, with Rutherford's rich fruity sound particularly dominant.

After the Pisa solo set—this time without electronics, and mellower than the London one but equally rewarding —is a trio with bassist Paul Rogers and drummer Nigel Morris. With bass and drums, Rutherford reveals another side of his playing, producing rapidly articulated passages that contrast totally with the more leisurely pace of his solo playing, where he seems to savor and sustain every possible note. Partly the change of pace is necessitated by Rogers and Morris's playing, who drive things along with gusto, Rogers' playing a particular wonder to hear. So, four complementary and contrasting aspects of Rutherford that add much to his existing discography whilst also providing an excellent starting point.

The release is all the more poignant by its inclusion of vintage photographs of Rutherford—at a festival in 2004 wearing those red braces; in 1986; and only just recognizable as a 15-year-old schoolboy in 1955. Listening to this moving music, it is like he is still with us. One of 2009's very best.

Track Listing: Elesol A; Elesol B; Elesol C; Braqua 1A; Braqua 1B; Braqua 2; The Great Learning 1A; The Great Learning 1B; The Great Learning 2; One First 1; One First 2; One First 3.

Personnel: Paul Rutherford: trombone, euphonium, electronics (1-3), voice (1-3, 7-9), tambourine (1-3); George Lewis: trombone (4-6); Martin Mayes: French horn (4-6); Melvyn Poore: tuba (4-6); Paul Rogers: double-bass (10-12); Nigel Morris: drum set (10-12).

Title: Tetralogy (1978-82) | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Emanem


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