Arriving mere weeks before Roswell Rudd’s passing late last year, Embrace can’t help but take on a valedictory air. It may very well be the final gift left to us by one of jazz’s most singular personalities. Rudd’s goodbye comes not in the shape of a free-blowing fête, Dixieland throwback or Malian encounter, but through expansive interpretations of standards that stretch the fabric of what we often take for granted. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” for example, ditches its dirge-like demeanor and adopts a party vibe, and “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” opens with drunken warbling before settling into its swinging comfort zone. Each familiar favorite on the playlist proves both pliable and durable when filtered through this drummer-less quartet.
The art of inflection, the painting of broad expository strokes and a synergistic spirit are the greatest virtues of this music. Rudd’s stylishly coarse lyricism offers a slightly different perspective on classics like “Something to Live For,” while his horn’s 50 shades of bray enliven the most active of scenarios. Vocalist Fay Victor’s scat chops and self-assured flexibility lend themselves well to these settings, and mark her as a kindred spirit of Rudd’s. Pianist Lafayette Harris acts as foil and straight man with his classy chording, and bassist Ken Filiano’s mastery of pitch and time allows him to tighten and slacken the reins as he sees fit. Embrace is an album that reminds us that Roswell Rudd’s slide carried the entire sweep of jazz history in its movements. But it also affirms the very notion of this music as a form of collaborative high art.