Roswell Rudd—the inimitable Roswell Rudd—is one of those musicians who must be thought of with the definite article preceding his name and/or the instrument he plays: The Roswell Rudd—The Trombonist… El Rey.
There is simply no trombone player in any era like him to have been so privileged to have been graced by a proverbial Merlin—in a spectral forest where men like Mr. Rudd woodshed—who taught him the inner secrets of his instruments’ voice and how to use his own voice to enunciate each imaginary consonant and vowel he utters, which rushes through the tubing and out of the gleaming bell of his trombone. And he has done it again, with Trombone for Lovers, a look at timeless standards, by which he has made them timeless again, re-creating them completely with all their ageless beauty, making them ripple through the flesh and the bone; through body and soul, touching the very nerve endings of the body with notes that are charged with emotion in every muted growl and angular human smear. So beautiful and animate is Mr. Rudd’s playing, and so alive and palpable, that he did not seem to need vocalists to enhance the songs he plays; he simply vocalises as he plays his horn in a voice as rich and deep as Paul Robeson’s.
Then there is the magical relationship that the trombonist enjoys with his core ensemble. First is the ethereal beauty of John Medeski on Hammond B3. Roswell Rudd and Mr. Medeski seem to be entwined in a primeval interminable dance. The elemental power of Mr. Medeski’s playing is visceral, alluring—almost hypnotic. As the notes of that organ come alive and rumble forth like spectral warriors closing in on the trombonist, Mr. Rudd slides out from under their very feet, challenging them to an imaginary duel. Like ancient warriors now the trombonist and the Hammond organist circle each other, line after line of beautiful notes fluttering and flying outwards as the instrumentalists are engaged in what turns from a menacing approach into a graceful courtship; their instruments becoming lovers. For how else could music so exquisite escape from the innards of each instrument? On “Ghost Riders In The Sky” organist and trombonist invite slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein into the web of music the weave. And on John Lennon’s “Here, There and Everywhere” the musicians lure a masterful vocal out of the heart of Bob Dorough. Then Fay Victor, that great blues shouter belts out “Trouble in Mind” as Mr. Medeski skitters and slides like a demon possessed, while Mr. Rudd growls dramatically… And on and on the go with the ethereal violin of Michael Doucet on “Autumn Leaves” and an unforgettable version of “Tennessee Waltz”… Until the dynamic tension and the drama winds its way up the proverbial mountain en route to Valhalla, where Mr. Rudd and his worthy entourage encounter the ghost of “Joe Hill”. It seems that the entire album was made for this event. And Roswell Rudd is truly glorified in every one of the four versions of the song.
Every time Roswell Rudd makes a record it is charged with emotion and as he spares no effort to make the music as meaningful and memorable as it can ever be. So how does the great one make a great record after all of this? Perhaps the answer lies in having Verna Gillis as a resident deity to guide him through the venerable path less taken. And now there is Ivan Rubenstein-Gillis to produce the record, bringing together a spectacular group of musicians who understand what great musical scores are and what it means to treat them with love and respect. No one can teach this aspect of music-making. It is buried deep in the heart and the soul of musicians such as Roswell Rudd. And now, apparently by just being around him in a recording studio, musicians can bask in his love and learn to imbibe the magic he exudes to make great music together.
Track Listing: Ghost Riders In The Sky; Here, There & Everywhere; Baby, It’s Cold Outside; Trouble In Mind; Struttin’ With Some Barbecue ; Sleepwalk; Autumn Leaves ; Green Onions ; Tennessee Waltz ; Come Sunday; Unchained Melody; September Song ; Funky Little Sweet Thing – Slow Dance For Fast Times; Joe Hill; Joe Hill; Joe Hill – The Relentless Walk; Joe Hill – Joe Hill Will Never Die.
Personnel: Roswell Rudd: trombone; John Medeski: Hammond B3; Dennis Nelson: piano; Richard Hammond: contrabass, electric bass; Aaron Comess: drums; Steven Bernstein: slide trumpet1 – 3, 5, 8); Bob Dorough: vocal(3); Fay Victor: vocal(4); Michael Doucet: violin (7, 12); Rolf Sturm: guitar (7, 9, 12); Gary Lucas: electric guitar(8); Heather Masse: vocal (11); Ira Coleman: bass (13); Matthew Fink: guitar (13); T. Xiques: drums (13); Dennis Nelson: piano (14, 17); NYC Labor Chorus: Jana Ballard: artistic director, conductor: Eugene Hamond, Bass (15 – 17); Denise Jones, soprano (soloist) (15 – 17); Jeff Vogel, tenor (soloist) (15 – 17); Brent Kramer, tenor (15 – 17); Victor Fry, Tenor (15 – 17); Betty Ralston, Soprano (Soloist) (15 – 17); Susan Zugaib, alto (15 – 17); Sarah Belcher-Barnes, alto (15 – 17); Judy Kleinberg, soprano (15 – 17); Barbara Bailey: soprano (soloist) (15 – 17); Reggie Bennett: rap (16).
Roswell Rudd on the web: roswellrudd.com
Label: Sunnyside Records | Release date: November 2013
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama