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Roswell Rudd: Broad Strokes

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Trombonist/composer Roswell Rudd has performed in both Dixieland and free-jazz groups. He’s taught ethnomusicology and has more than a passing knowledge of classical music. And he puts what he knows to work, so that you have to be ready for anything when you listen to one of his albums. On Broad Strokes he concentrates on playing ballads, including a few of his own, plus pieces by Herbie Nichols, Elvis Costello, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Saint Saens (the “Theme from Babe,” which was adapted from his “Third Symphony”), done by groups varying in size from two to 10 instruments. There are vocals on three selections by R&B stylists Christopher Rudd and Steve Riddick, plus Sheila Jordan. The tracks all have something to recommend them, but some are marred.

Christopher Rudd sings stiffly on “Sassy and Dolphy,” but in fairness the unusual theme is difficult to navigate. It’s also burdened by cutesy lyrics about the love of two dogs named Sassy and Dolphy. “Stokey” also has corny lyrics, and a stale, down home chart. However, Sheila Jordan sings beautifully during “The Light.” She sounds amazingly youthful. Roswell Rudd, the narrator on one selection, “God Had a Girlfriend,” takes me back to the jazz and poetry days. It’s got a nice, good-natured quality, although Rudd’s humor is pretty lame. The “All Too Soon/Way Low” Ellington medley is warm, but Rudd does his best work when he’s not trying to conjure up the music of 65 years ago. “Theme from Babe” has Rudd building strongly over a static background provided by Sonic Youth. “Coming on the Hudson” is another fine track, with nice harmonies by Steve Lacy on soprano, Elton Dean on alto saxello and Rudd, and solid solos by each. Rudd’s immensely broad tone is heard to advantage here and on “Change of Season,” but he doesn’t give himself enough room. Excessive modesty is not what’s needed here.