Thursday, September 24, 2009

Roswell Rudd, Trombone Pioneer

In the mid-sixties through to, say, 1970, there were only two really important American trombone players in the free-new thing echelons of improvisational music. There was Grachan Moncur and there was Roswell Rudd. That they both played for a time with Archie Shepp is not insignificant. (For Rudd's playing with Archie there's the monumental Live in San Francisco on Impulse if you can find it). I could say plenty of good things about Mr. Moncur, but we'll leave that aside for another posting.

Roswell Rudd had memorable and well-received associations in the early days with the New York Art Quartet and with the Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd cooperative ensemble (the latter group playing Monk for the most part). Rudd also participated in what I gather were informal get togethers with the legendary Herbie Nichols, the tragically unsung composer-pianist who passed in the sixties with little notice but has been the subject of posthumous appreciation as his few recording have been reissued and his music revived by people like Misha Mengelberg. And Roswell Rudd.

A very good example of the latter is a Roswell Rudd Trio recording on CIMP, The Unheard Herbie Nichols, Volume 1. It was recorded in 1996 and features Roswell in great form along with Greg Millar on guitar and John Bacon, Jr at the drums.

The recording gives you unvarnished Rudd in a small-group context and several unaccompanied trombone cuts. There are previously unrecorded Herbie Nichols pieces as the launching point and those pieces are surely worth hearing. But it's Rosewell's playing that forms the main event of this contentful disk.

With absolutely no disrespect intended, one might say that Rudd is the master of the "new tailgate" trombone. Though the tailgate style of trombone so prevalent in NOLA's early jazz ensembles was latter dismissed by some as technically limited and overly boisterous, those criticisms were misguided and the product of a general prejudice that the "Moderns" had against "Moldy Fig" music in the '40s and '50s. From the very beginning Roswell Rudd (who did some time playing dixieland as did Nichols, interestingly) brought back some of the bluster and fire of those old tailgate style players. Whatever you can say about his playing, technically limited is certainly not one of them. And he combined that bluster with an avant style that joined extended sound color capabilities with melody lines that stretched the boundaries of what note combinations and phrases could "lawfully" be played with what.

After the advent of Rudd on the scene, you can trace the rise of other free bonists that also brought back the dramatic bluster to the music. I wont go into names (that would involve us in a discussion that is beyond the scope of this posting). The point is that he influenced many that followed in his wake. And he's still doing it today.

So the CIMP disk gives you a very nice slice of Roswell the trombonist. There's bluster, but there's also fabulous phrasing and note choice. And there's a hell of a lot of heart in his playing.
This CIMP disk may not have sold a million copies as yet, but it is essential listening. For Rudd's trombone and for Herbie Nichols' jazz compositions.

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