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September 2008

Roswell Rudd Quartet
Keep Your Heart Right
Sunnyside

Roswell Rudd is easy to like. His work with Steve Lacy is enjoyable, as are his odes to Thelonious Monk, his avant-garde leanings and his homages to Herbie Nichols. His excursions around the planet are something to marvel at, so too his dabbles in the music of Mongolia, West Africa and Latin America. But his new record, Keep Your Heart Right, is a difficult one to understand.

Nothing wrong with his playing: His solo on “I Look in the Mirror,” to pick one, is marvelous, and his backing musicians—pianist Lafayette Harris and bassist Brad Jones—are more than fine. But the fourth member of his quartet, Korean vocalist Sunny Kim, does not belong. Like the other musicians, she’s talented in her own right. Her gospel-pop work on “The Light Is With Me” would get her at least to the main stage of American Idol. But her delivery lives between show tune and cabaret, and it doesn’t mesh easily with Rudd’s dynamic, bluesy trombone. The matchup feels forced. (Still, these tunes and arrangements are likable enough; a mix of the tunes with the vocals removed wouldn’t be a bad thing.)

Maybe the problem is that I wasn’t prepared for Rudd to go head-to-head with this particular singer. But expectation informs experience, and when I pop in a Roswell Rudd disc, I expect to be surprised, entertained and awakened. None of that happened this time.

Originally published in September 2008
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