Put two musicians in a studio full of instruments (the majority being of the percussive persuasion) and two possible results can emerge: groovy, spatial soundscapes; or the overwhelming, kid-in-a-candy-shop urge to play everything for a few minutes. Good Medicine, a set of duets by trombonist Joseph Bowie and percussionist Adam Rudolph, goes both ways, but most of the time it sticks to the former.
Between the two of them, they play a total of 22 instruments, including djembe, gongs, cowbell and thumb piano. Although Bowie blows his horn most of the time, he also adds to the beat and the ambience. Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s classic duet Mu is cited as a touchstone, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which was cofounded by Bowie’s late brother Lester, can be recalled in the album’s highpoint, “Aja’s Language Temple.” This 10-minute track continually reshapes from galloping hand-drum grooves to a tropical rainstorm punctuated by most of the aforementioned instruments, finally ending with muted ’bone playing atop what sounds like a larger group of drums and gongs. Bowie’s “brass-electronics” not only expand his sound with echo and loops, they also create extra melodic lines on a few songs, allowing him to improvise over a bigger backdrop.
Things aren’t as successful when the duo ventures into vocal territory. The guttural throat singing in “Soul-celestial” works, but Rudolph’s lyrics in “Y-Do-U Treat Me So Bad” are tossed off without much thought, over a set of disconnected New Orleans grooves. If “All Alone Blues” was meant to be a blues parody, it’s mildly amusing. If not, Bowie’s rambling lyrics and wheezing harmonica should have stayed on the cutting-room floor.