Saturday, December 23, 2017


The Incredible Honk

One of the great trombonists of all jazz history, Roswell Rudd, has just died, at 82, evidently of cancer. He was a major figure in the 1960s avant-garde, later refocusing his sense of the tradition into two especially great albums -- 1974's Flexible Flyer, which restarted Sheila Jordan's brilliant career, and 1982's Regeneration, which rekindled interest in the music of Herbie Nichols -- and after a dozen years away from the studio mounted a marvelously wide-ranging comeback. For all his range, he had a singular sound on trombone -- unflinching, a deep and dirty growl -- which made trombone one of my favorite horns, and set a standard: searching for his name in my writings, I've found myself repeatedly trying to measure up other trombonists to him.

I have no time to write anything that does justice to his music, but I figured the least I could do would be to pluck my various reviews of his work out of my Jazz Guides. In this task, I've been helped by Mindspring's discography, although it unaccountably ends around 2002. All I've managed to do is to make a quick pass to weed out some redundancies and asides. I've also added stubs for a few albums I haven't heard (but by no means all of the ones Rudd played on).


Eli's Chosen Six (1955, Columbia) Rudd started off in this Dixieland group. I've only heard one cut on a compilation, and they seem to be an amusing bunch -- not that I wouldn't rather hear more trombone and less vocals.

Eli's Chosen Six: Ivy League Jazz (1957, Columbia)

Cecil Taylor/Buell Neidlinger: New York City R&B (1961, Candid) Originally issued under the bassist's name, Taylor's name added later as the pianist is the draw, especially on the two shorter trio cuts with Billy Higgins; the other two cuts add horns: Archie Shepp (tenor sax) on both; Clark Terry (trumpet), Steve Lacy (soprano sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), and Charles Davis (baritone sax) on the closer. [8]

Cecil Taylor/Buell Neidlinger: Jumpin Punkins' (1961, Candid) [+]

Cecil Taylor: Cell Walk for Celeste (1961, Candid) Outtakes from the New York City R&B and Jumpin' Punkins sessions that didn't appear in album form until 1988, most quartet with Shepp, Neidlinger, and Dennis Charles, but two tracks with the extra horn quartet, with Steve Lacy's soprano sax by far the most noteworthy. [7]

The Gil Evans Orchestra: Into the Hot (1961, Impulse -99) Evans' masterpiece was his 1960 Out of the Cool, so this title makes sense as the next step, but the album itself is schizo, with two dull orchestral tracks led by trumpeter John Carisi (they do seem to wake up for the third), and three slices of something else by Cecil Taylor's quintet (Archie Shepp, Jimmy Lyons, Henry Grimes, and Sunny Murray, adding Ted Curson and Roswell Rudd on the closer). [The Taylor tracks were later reissued along with a Rudd session as Mixed.] [5]

Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd: School Days (1963, Hat Art -94) Ken Vandermark named one of his best quartets after this album. [9]

Albert Ayler/Don Cherry/John Tchicai/Roswell Rudd/Gary Peacock/Sunny Murray: New York Eye and Ear Control (1964, ESP-Disk -08) Ayler's record, but all names are on the cover and all are notable, the four horns churning tumultuously, with Ayler's tenor sax reaching for the sacred, and Rudd's trombone plumbing the profane. [6]

Archie Shepp: Four for Trane (1964, Impulse -97) [9]

New York Art Quartet (1964, ESP-Disk -08) One-shot avant-garde group, at least until they reunited for a 35th Reunion record, but an important item in trombonist Roswell Rudd's discography -- he dominates the rough interplay with alto saxophonist John Tchicai, while percussionist Milford Graves is at least as sparkling; the sole artiness is the cut that frames a poem, but it too is a signpost of the times, "Black Dada Nihilismus," by Amiri Baraka. [9]

The Jazz Composers Orchestra: Communication (1964, Fontana) A pathbreaking large group assembled by Carla Bley and Michael Mantler to play their pieces and arrangements, which over the next few years rotated to feature other composers, including Rudd (see Numatik Swing Band, below).

New York Art Quartet: Mohawk (1965, Fontana)

New York Art Quartet: Old Stuff (1965, Cuneiform -10) Short-lived group, long remembered. Danish alto saxophonist John Tchicai teamed with trombonist Roswell Rudd to cut two 1964-65 albums, an eponymous one on ESP-Disk that has remained in print more often than not, and a second that soon vanished, leaving us with nothing more until the pair got together in 1999 and cut 35th Reunion. These radio shots add significantly to their legacy, another 70 minutes (compared to 43 on the first album). The bass and drums slots were variable: Finn von Eyben plays bass here, and Louis Moholo drums. Rudd was working out the logic of free jazz trombone, and Tchicai lets him run with it, filling in and edging around. [9]

New York Art Quartet: Call It Art (1964-65, Triple Point 5LP -13) Extravagant packaging, with the 5 LPs each in its own jacket, packed alongside a 156-page clothbound book, both enclosed in a very handsome plywood box. The group, with Roswell Rudd on trombone and John Tchicai on alto sax, was more at home in Copenhagen than in New York. They cut the one album they're known for on ESP-Disk, another for Fontana in England, but other recordings have leaked out over the years -- notably Old Stuff, released by Cuneiform in 2010, and now this stack of "previously uncirculated" vinyl. Hard for me to evaluate -- among other things I'm no longer accustomed to 15-20 minute chunks -- but everything I play has its fascinating points. [9]

Roswell Rudd (1965, Free America/Verve -05) The great trombonist trades lines with alto saxophonist John Tchicai, creating a bouncy polyphony that never quite slips into a groove; a radio shot tape, sound quality so-so. [+]

Archie Shepp: Live in San Francisco (1966, Impulse -98) [5]

Roswell Rudd: Everywhere (1966, Impulse -67) The trombonist's only name album for a major label in the 1960s, a session -- four cuts, 47:15 -- that has only been reissued as part of Mixed, co-headlined by Cecil Taylor (prepends three Taylor cuts, one with Rudd). With Giuseppi Logan (flute/bass clarinet), Robin Kenyatta (alto sax), Lewis Worrell/Charlie Haden (bass), and Beaver Harris (drums). [8]

Archie Shepp: Three for a Quarter/One for a Dime (1966, Impulse -69) [5]

Archie Shepp: Mama Too Tight (1966, Impulse -98) [5]

Cecil Taylor/Roswell Rudd: Mixed (1961-66, Impulse -08) [+]

The Jazz Composer's Orchestra (1968, JCOA)

Charlie Haden: Liberation Music Orchestra (1969, Impulse -96) [+]

Gato Barbieri: The Third World (1969, Flying Dutchman -70) Front cover just says "Gato" under the title. Album opens with flute, then a little vocal, before blossoming into one of the most identifiable tenor sax tones ever. Interesting line up here, with the first hints of his Latin/tango rhythm melded with Roswell Rudd's trombone growl. [8]

Carla Bley/Paul Haines: Escalator Over the Hill (1968-71, JCOA) [5]

Roswell Rudd and the Jazz Composer's Orchestra: Numatik Swing Band (1973, JCOA) Sheila Jordan sings. [9]

Roswell Rudd: Flexible Flyer (1974, Black Lion -95) One of my all-time favorite albums, with Sheila Jordan singing and Rudd's the only horn voice, remarkably tasteful piano by Hod O'Brien and a rhythm section that could swing free but doesn't. [10]

Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd/Kent Carter/Beaver Harris: Trickles (1976, Black Saint) [4]

Roswell Rudd: Blown Bone (1976, Phillips)

Roswell Rudd: Inside Job (1976, Arista/Freedom) [3]

Carla Bley: Dinner Music (1976, Watt)

The Carla Bley Band: European Tour 1977 (1977, Watt -78) [+]

Enrico Rava Quartet (1978, ECM) [9]

Laboratorio Della Quercia (1978, Horo)

The Carla Bley Band: Musique Mechanique (1978, Watt -79) The title piece here is broken into three movements, each marked by a striking mechanicalism in the movement: the rhythm lurches in small, sharp locksteps, while there is much huffing and puffing -- notably from the lower reaches of the bass section, especially Bob Stewart's tuba. Roswell Rudd sings during the middle movement, with a similar mechanical thrust. And Karen Mantler's glockenspiel adds something to the final movement. The two other pieces are less distinctive, and less obviously humorous, and for that matter less obviously interesting. [5]

The Definitive Roswell Rudd (1979, Horo)

Roswell Rudd/Steve Lacy/Misha Mengelberg/Kent Carter/Han Bennink: Regeneration (1982, Soul Note -83) [10]

That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (1984, A&M -85) [One track, credited to Terry Adams and Friends.] [+]

Allen Lowe/Roswell Rudd: Dark Was the Night -- Cold Was the Ground (1993, Music & Arts) [+]

Allen Lowe/Roswell Rudd: Woyzeck's Death (1994, Enja -95) The second collaboration, with Lowe (tenor sax) composing up to the title piece and the trombonist contributing the last two pieces. With Randy Sandke (trumpet) and Ben Goldberg (clarinets) backed by piano-bass-drums. A meditation on Georg Buchner's famous play (left unfinished at the playwright's death), a bit awkward and dramatic, but great to hear Rudd. [6]

Steve Swell Quartet: Out and About (1996, CIMP) Probably the best avant-trombonist to come along since Rudd starts his career by entertaining the master.

Elton Dean Quartet + Roswell Rudd: Rumours of an Incident (1996, Slam)

Elton Dean/Paul Dunmall/Tony Levin/Paul Rogers/Roswell Rudd/Keith Tippett: Bladik (1996, Cuneiform)

Roswell Rudd: The Unheard Herbie Nichols, Vol. 1 (1996, CIMP) [9]

Roswell Rudd: The Unheard Herbie Nichols, Vol. 2 (1996, CIMP) [5]

Elton Dean's Newsense (1997, Slam -98) The saxophonist in early 1970's prog-rock group Soft Machine, although that barely (and rather obliquely) hints at his jazz career (up to his death in 2006). It helps here to know that Dean led a 1976-81 nonet called Elton Dean's Ninesense (including South Africans Harry Miller, Louis Moholo, and Mongezi Feza, also Harry Beckett from Barbados), so the name here introduces a new nonet. The horns are dense and thick, but few stand out. [6]

Ab Baars Trio + Roswell Rudd: Four (1998, Data)

Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd: Monk's Dream (1999, Verve -00) [+]

Roswell Rudd: Broad Strokes (1999-2000, Knitting Factory) Eclectic, it sez here. Big groups, small groups, too many vocals (awful ones at that), some great trombone. A mishmash. [5]

Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd: Live in New York (2001, Verve) Ten or so years ago, Roswell Rudd was working in a Catskills hotel when Francis Davis tracked him down to write a "whatever happened to?" article about him. Since then he's come back big enough to share top billing in this reunion of Archie Shepp's '60s quintet, soon after sharing top billing with Steve Lacy on 2000's Monk's Dream. This is the better album, partly for the obvious reason that Shepp's run-of-the-mill blues vocals are infintely preferable to Aëbi's stilted operatics. But top-of-the-line billing is not just newfound recognition for the doyen of avant-garde trombonists, this record rides on Rudd's compositions, and resounds with trombone (abetted by second trombonist Grachan Moncur). [9]

Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late (1962-2002, Cuneiform 2CD -07) One thing that distinguished both Lacy and Rudd is that they vaulted directly from trad jazz to the avant-garde, pausing only to snatch up the songbooks of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. Instrumentation had something to do with this: before Lacy, the only known soprano sax master was Sidney Bechet, while, pace J.J. Johnson, the trombone had long been a New Orleans staple for dirtying up the lead trumpet -- Louis Armstrong never went anywhere without a Kid Ory or Trummy Young or Jack Teagarden. The first Lacy-Rudd quartet only cut one album, School Days (1963), but it was landmark enough that Ken Vandermark named his trombone-powered pianoless quartet after it (and everything School Days released was golden). The four early cuts here are unreleased demos -- three takes on Monk and one on Cecil Taylor -- and they are major finds, keys to how to turn a song inside out and make something new of it. The group broke up with Lacy moving to France and Rudd teaming up with Archie Shepp and others before fading into obscurity. Finally, they regrouped for tours in 1999 and 2002, with a new album, Monk's Dream. The rest are live shots from the tours -- long pieces, mostly Lacy's improv frameworks, plus Monk and Nichols and a sprightly pseudo-African riff from Rudd. They don't blow you away so much as they resonate with the authoritative voices of two major careers bound together at their ends. [9]

Sex Mob: Dime Grind Palace (2003, Ropeadope) Group formed in 1998 -- Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Briggan Krauss (sax), Tony Scherr (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums -- with nine albums through 2016, this their fifth, joined here and there by various guests, notably Peter Apfelbaum, John Kruth, Scott Robinson, Marcus Rojas, and Roswell Rudd (the latter brings the grind to 10 of 16 cuts). [8]

Roswell Rudd's Malicool (2003, Sunnyside) The veteran avant-garde trombonist meets Toumani Diabate and friends for some rather atmospheric kora, balophone, ngone, djembe, guitar, bass and 'bone. Rudd sounds fine in this context, and Diabate sounds much like he always does, but you'd think the meeting ought to have generated a little more edge. Like maybe they could use a drummer? [+]

Roswell Rudd & the Mongolian Buryat Band: Blue Mongol (2005, Sunnyside) The great jazz trombonist engages a conservatory-trained Mongolian folk group; part of the interest is the similar harmonics between trombone and throat singing, but the highlight is when Rudd cops a Beach Boys line for "Buryat Boogie." [9]

Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser: Airwalkers (2004, Clean Feed -06) Bass-trombone duo. Seems to me this is more Dresser's show: he does this sort of intimate abstraction quite often, it's always difficult to follow but sometimes interesting when you do. Always great to hear Rudd, and a rare treat to hear him this rough but still in control. But not a record that will convert anyone. [7]

Anita O'Day: Indestructible! (2004-05, Kayo Stereophonic -06) Well into her 80s, she doesn't swing as hard as she used to, and her voice is more gone than not, but she inspires a couple of near-faultless bands. Roswell Rudd rumbles on three tracks, including "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer." Joe Wilder stands out on the other tracks. O'Day's post-prime recordings have always been a matter of taste and sentiment: you have to like her a lot to see past the decline, but that's easy to do. [7]

Roswell Rudd & Yomo Toro: El Espíritu Jíbaro (2002-06, Sunnyside -07) One of Rudd's world music match-ups, with Bobby Sanabria reinforcing Toro's Puerto Rican country beat, and Rudd just being the great trombonist he's always been. Better than his beatless Mali album; not as intriguing a mix as those Mongolian throat singers. [8]

Roswell Rudd Quartet: Keep Your Heart Right (2007, Sunnyside -08) New album of (mostly) old songs, the few the great trombonist managed to write lyrics for. They're set up for Sunny Kim, the first singer he's used since he rediscovered Sheila Jordan. Unfair for anyone to have to walk in Jordan's shoes, but I'm not sure I'd think much of Kim in any case. To her credit, she fares best on two songs Jordan sung on Flexible Flyer, ably negotiating the same tricky phrasing; elsewhere she ranges from competent to not. Piano and bass do little, and I still wonder what Rudd has against drums (or drummers). The trombone is glorious. [6]

Chuck Bernstein: Delta Berimbau Blues (2007-08, CMB) Minimalist gutbucket blues played on a Brazilian diddley bow, with Roswell Rudd for a choice cut. [8]

Roswell Rudd: Trombone Tribe (2008, Sunnyside -09) Several tribes, actually: the title group with three trombones and Bob Stewart on tuba; one called Bonerama with five plus a sousaphone; the Gangbe Brass Band of Benin; and Sex Mob, which qualifies when Rudd weighs in; also, scattered unnamed groups with everyone from Eddie Bert to Ray Anderson to Josh Roseman. And what do trombone tribes do? Duh, party! [9]

The Second Approach Trio With Roswell Rudd: The Light (2009, SoLyd) Passing through Moscow, the trombone great gets sucked into a maelstrom of flying scat and piano -- like he never left the '60s. [7]

Allen Lowe: Blues and the Empirical Truth (2009-11, Music & Arts 3CD) Probably better known for his books and compilations -- the 9-CD American Pop: An Audio History From Minstrel to Mojo and the 36-CD That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History plus their separately published books, with a new 36-CD blues series in the works -- than for his original music. I first discovered him when Francis Davis tabbed his first two self-released 1990-92 albums as Pick Hits in an earlier edition of Jazz Consumer Guide -- critical admiration that continues as Davis wrote liner notes for this release. Based in Maine, mostly cut with a local group occasionally spiced with outside star power -- Marc Ribot, Matthew Shipp, Roswell Rudd, Lewis Porter -- this digs deeper than I could have imagined into blues form, blues notes, and blues psyche, turning every aspect over and inside out. Lowe plays alto, C melody, and tenor sax, and guitar. While most of the guitar is played by Ray Suhy or Marc Ribot, Lowe especially stands out on "Williamsburg Blues" -- his guitar with Shipp's piano. Three discs means some sprawl, comparable I'd say to 69 Love Songs in that neither the theme nor the invention wears thin. (Well, maybe a bit in the middle disc.) [10]

Roswell Rudd: The Incredible Honk (2011, Sunnyside) An smorgasbord with Cuban, Cajun, Chinese, and Malian guests, topped by "Danny Boy" stripped down to a bare 'bone. [8]

Roswell Rudd: Trombone for Lovers (2013, Sunnyside) With the "Joe Hill" suite at the end, this could have been called Trombone for the Masses: I don't mind the rapper there but the NYC Labor Choir takes some getting used to even though I feel like saluting the political point. Everything else is just superb: the opening "Ghost Riders in the Sky" with Steven Bernstein's slide trumpet, Bob Dorough on "Here, There & Everywhere," Fay Victor on "Trouble in Mind," Michael Doucet's violin on "Autumn Leaves" and "Tennessee Waltz," familiar songs that seem perfect when they pop up: "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," "Green Onions," "Unchained Melody," "September Song." As for "Joe Hill," well, organize. [10]

Roswell Rudd & Heather Masse: August Love Song (2015, Red House -16) Masse is a singer from Maine, part of the folk group The Wailin' Jennys but also has a couple jazz albums. She wrote one-and-a-half songs here -- the half segues into "Old Devil Moon" -- and the trombonist wrote two songs, the rest from the standards repertoire. With Rolf Sturm on guitar and Mark Helias on bass, what I love is the trombone growl and rumble, but the others, not least the singer, do their part too. [9]

Bob Merrill: Cheerin' Up the Universe (2013, Accurate -15) Trumpet player, crooner, don't know if he's related to the famous songwriter of the same name (1921-98), but is clearly much younger and still living. Band includes John Medeski, Russ Gershon, Nicki Parrott, and George Schuller, and Harry Allen and Roswell Rudd drop in for a cut apiece. [7]

Roswell Rudd/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balasz Pandi: Strength & Power (2015, Rare Noise -16) Free jazz quartet, everything joint-credited, presumably improvised on the spot. The trombonist has done things like this in the distant past, none recently, and never has he got the mix this right. Saft has emerged as an exceptional free jazz pianist, and the bassist and drummer know the game. [9]

Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor/Lafayette Harris/Ken Filiano: Embrace (2017, RareNoise) Trombone-piano-bass trio plus singer, one of the most distinctive ones working today if not always one of the easiest to listen to. In some ways this recalls Rudd's mid-1970s work with Sheila Jordan -- less swing, the pianist a bit more ornate. Victor is especially striking on songs that don't tempt her to scat or vocalese, like "Can't We Be Friends" and "House of the Rising Sun," but she's pretty impressive traipsing over Mingus and Monk. The trombone isn't exactly lovely, but so full of soul it can't be the work of anyone else. [9]