May 2008

Adam Rudolph: Momentary Music

For percussionist Adam Rudolph, it’s all about the moment: moments of silence, moments of sound, moments of assonance and moments of dissonance, but most important, moments of rhythm—complex rhythms, piled high and pulled from a diverse array of ethnic traditions and global inspirations. Just don’t expect ol’ faithful 4/4. “I don’t play traditional rhythms,” Rudolph explains. “I play what I guess you could call cosmological rhythms. I play what comes to me from the cosmos at the moment of creation. That’s what the tradition of improvisation is all about; that’s the philosophy. It’s about being in the moment, creating in the moment, being responsive to what’s happening in the moment. That’s why you can’t rehearse. None of us know what’s going to happen; all that exists is in the moment and the music we play is a celebration of that: being conscious in the moment, being empty in the moment and creating form from nothingness. So we prepare ourselves for that.”

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Adam Rudolph

A former pupil of Don Cherry and longtime collaborator with Yusef Lateef, Rudolph’s preparation is apparent on Dream Garden (Justin Time), the latest release by his Moving Pictures octet. Originally formed in 1992, Moving Pictures now consists of Ned Rothenberg and Steve Gorn on winds; Graham Haynes on brass; Ken Wessel on guitars; Shanir Blumenkrantz on bass; Brahim Fribgane on the Moroccan oud; and Hamid Drake on drums and additional percussion. All are very familiar with Rudolph’s strong embrace of the here and now. “I was looking for musicians who weren’t just journeymen,” says Rudolph, “but were interested in reaching into new areas because the whole concept of the group is to create a forum for everybody to reach, develop, experiment and form their own voice.”

Rudolph himself is a seasoned percussionist and bandleader, specializing in congas but also showcasing his percussive ingenuity on a long list of tools including thumb pianos, naqqara, tarija, caxcixi, gourds, djembes, tablas, timbales and more. “One of the great things about being a percussionist,” he explains, “is that you create your own orchestration, your own palette of what you do. So the instruments I choose are so much a part of my expression. I always choose instruments that have a certain kind of linguistic element to them, that have interesting timbral potential.”

The style of Dream Garden is steeped in tradition, in both format and instrumentation. Nearly the entire band shares its leader’s interest in foreign and historical instruments and the ability to perform on several of them. Blumenkrantz splits duties between bass and sinter, a Moroccan, three-stringed, skin-covered bass. Rothenberg does his duty on shakuhachi, a Japanese, end-blown flute. The presence of these unique tools, and more importantly, the players who play them, emphasizes Rudolph’s distinct approach to playing in the present. “I didn’t really choose instruments as much as choose individuals,” Rudolph elaborates, “where I knew that there would be a certain kind of alchemy. Also, these were musicians who were interested in delving into working with these types of elements. So, for example, we don’t even rehearse in the traditional sense, we prepare by my sharing my knowledge and interest in my rhythm concept or intervallic concept, or dealing with ragas or melodic themes, and we work with those elements to develop our ability to play.”

The result of such a unique approach is a musical magnetism that defies categorization. Rudolph’s hand drum opens the album’s first track “Oshogbo,” with Hamid Drake’s percussion quick to follow, carving out paths for a looping melody from Haynes’ trumpet and flutes. Wessel remains in the background, tying the sounds together with stagnant electric guitar chords. A lyrical whistle sings lead on “Happiness Road,” while kalimbas, frame drums and shakers echo polyrhythms underneath. Polyphony is explored with even greater fervor on “The Sphinx,” amidst the hustle of winds lingering atop the rhythms.

It’s not long on Dream Garden before Rudolph’s grand design is apparent. The elegance of his approach, his clever exploration of the interval and the urgency of his percussive purpose meld such seemingly disparate music—rich with space, foreign phrasing and global flavor—in a way that is as familiar as it is uncompromising. No better is this acumen illustrated than on “Walking the Curve” and “Helix.” The latter is a sinuous groove with aggressive percussion laying the ground for dramatic horn swells and a fiery guitar that sounds straight out of Bitches Brew. “Walking the Curve” is a funky African groove forged in 15/8, where the bansuri flute and oud lead the jam.

Despite the use of such traditional world instruments, Dream Garden is a record that evokes a retro-cool brand of early electric jazz and world-inflected avant-garde. For Rudolph, however, his foremost concern is how it sounds right now. “I don’t want the music to be nostalgic or stylized to remind people of something,” he explains. “I want it to be really all about the moment, because when you’re in the moment, that’s when something really uplifting can happen.”

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