The Roswell Rudd / Mark Dresser Duo at UMass, Amherst

Lyn Horton By

Sign in to view read count
An imbalance between seemingly opposing elements will render the duality non-existent. In every sense of the word, Dresser and Rudd together personify duality.
Roswell Rudd / Mark Dresser Duo
Solos & Duos Series
Besanzon Recital Hall
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, Massachusetts
October 17, 2007

A few years ago, bassist Mark Dresser proposed to trombonist Roswell Rudd that they work together. On their first recording as a duo, Airwalkers (Clean Feed, 2006), Rudd and Dresser spontaneously improvised a piece that they called "Duality. Apart from the dedication of the work, as the liner notes state, to the late soprano sax innovator and Rudd's longtime associate and friend Steve Lacy, the title of the piece describes the nature of the relationship of the twosome.

The concept of duality spans numerous systems of thought from science to religion. The essence of its meaning remains the same, however: within a dualistic system, two very different aspects of that system can be perceived separately but cannot be literally separated either from one another or from the core phenomenon that gives the system life and integrity. An imbalance between seemingly opposing elements will render the duality non-existent. In every sense of the word, Dresser and Rudd together personify duality. And it was never more evident than in their performance at UMass Amherst on October 17, 2007, in the second of the annual Solos & Duos Series.

The two musicians visibly gleamed in their capacity to combine the unlikely instrumental pairing of string bass and trombone, Rudd's trombone glistening in the light as he moved the slide from close to far away while buzzing a vibrato. At first, Dresser drew his bow onto the bass strings, bouncing it as if to echo the sound of Rudd's moving slide plus vibrato. He bowed short strokes as if to parallel equally Rudd's abbreviated notes. The tempo suited the pitch changes of the pair, as they both chose to move from high to low. Then Rudd broke their synchronicity with a fanfare that transformed into "Bye, Bye Blackbird, Dresser's pizzicati landing right on target with Rudd's melodic spurts. Soon the two lapsed logically into a groove.

Dresser dryly vocalized and tapped his right foot. Rudd's tones changed as smoothly as water rippling. Rudd handed the sound to Dresser and pounded a nearby table with a rubber mute as Dresser alternately struck and strummed his instrument. A glissando and a snap of the strings opened up the bass's ebullience, ending with an elegant two-handed strumming of the melody. Rudd extended the slide of his muted horn, holding a long note, before climbing up the scale with deliberative single notes. Dresser corresponded with coinciding rhythmic gestures, and in one single phrase from the horn the opening number was done.

The second half of the two-set session continued with a performance of the title song from their debut collaboration Airwalkers, a Herbie Nichols tune, a lyrical composition by Dresser, a Rudd composition called "No End and an unnamed improv to close the concert. The duo was tight. They listened to each other well.

What became evident the more the pair proceeded was that Dresser and Rudd love playing with and trust each other. The two players removed all potential for being perceived as an incongruous instrumental mix simply because of the striking difference in physical performance as well as in tonal textures. Rudd brought out bravura in Dresser that invited the latter to fill the musical space with a plasticity of movement, ranging from walking lines to two-handed plucking to fingering the strings in a manner that simulated the sound of bowed bass.

A definitive conclusiveness emerged from the way he finished the pluck of a string with a specific accent or slap of the wood, all the while strumming hard to inscribe a particular curvature to the musical line. He played glissandi up the scale and pizzicati down. The strings at the very top of the instrument had been raised above the soundboard in a special way to permit the bassist to pluck "bi-tones that added a unique edge to the bass's voice. His gestures in the upper register were impeccable. At the same time his attraction to traditional rhythmic forms manifested itself in the close correspondence of his notes with Rudd's dead- center tonality.

Rudd and his trombone were a force of nature. The ease with which he played his instrument permitted him to go anywhere he wanted to go. The brassiness of his instrument, which he emphasized in the fanfare in the introductory piece and in the brash enunciative phraseology starting off the second set, could not inhibit his full engagement in the melodic aspect of the musical discussion.

Rudd's sound evinced a tunefulness not normally associated with the trombone. Certainly, he maintained the horn's personality, one moment allowing it to speak in discrete tones, the next ripping the sound out as if to create the Doppler Effect or pressing into the instrument to control its output. Nonetheless, playing with nuanced detail on this instrument is difficult and has a limit. The use of a mute allowed for greater characterization and more flexible expressiveness, though Rudd went to only two of them and no more than a couple of times. Rudd excels in his exquisite sense of timing. Had this sense been dampened, he would have failed to float his lines on top of the bass's resonance. He also would have failed to place his instrument's entries in multiple synchronicities with his partner's. And he would have failed to construct a clear and wide-open solo on a final improv that appeared to exude nothing but melody.

Rudd has described the unpredictability of improvisation as a means to unveil unexpected "gifts." Whatever these gifts are (and the audience and perhaps the musicians can never fully know), they are so valuable towards expanding musical language that all that develops in performance becomes a part of both the improvisational and the compositional literature. And if, in fact, creation advances as a result of taking chances that are successful, the cornucopia of opportunities that Dresser and Rudd have endowed to the world of duets will offer a world of reference.

Visit Roswell Rudd and Mark Dresser at All About Jazz.

Visit Mark Dresser on the web.


Verna Gillis


Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles