Roswell Rudd, Jamie Saft, Trevor Dunn and Balazs Pándi – Strength & Power – RareNoise

Multi-generational free improvisation.

Roswell Rudd, Jamie Saft, Trevor Dunn and Balazs Pándi – Strength & Power [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR060, 64:35 [2/26/16] ****:

(Roswell Rudd – trombone; Jamie Saft – piano; Trevor Dunn – acoustic bass; Balázs Pándi – drums)

Two generations of free improv musicians come together on the 64-minute RareNoise release, Strength & Power. This collaborative quartet features 80-year-old trombonist Roswell Rudd, a veteran artist known chiefly for his work in the free jazz and avant-garde jazz scenes. He has had extensive connections to saxophonist Archie Shepp, pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Steve Lacy. The much younger members are pianist Jamie Saft (who has performed and recorded with John Zorn, Bobby Previte and Merzbow; and led many of his own sessions); bassist Trevor Dunn (he became recognized in the 1990s as part of the experimental band Mr. Bungle, and in the 2000s in the equally outré group, the Melvins); and drummer Balázs Pándi (he has also been involved with Merzbow; was in the ensemble called Cuts of Guilt—with Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore—as well as Metallic Taste of Blood and Slobber Pup). Strength & Power has been issued as a CD digipack; as a double vinyl LP; and in digital download form. This review refers to the CD configuration.

The basic precept for Strength & Power is simple but not necessarily straightforward. Saft states, “All the music was completely improvised in the studio. No predetermined compositions at all. No hand signals, no charts: nothing but trust, deepest intuition, and mutual respect.” That philosophy permeates the six numbers, which range in length from 18 minutes (the epic title track) to 5:25 minutes (the heaving tune “The Bedroom”). Rudd explains this session was a continuation of what he dubs “the pursuit of mystery,” which he has sought throughout his career, from his days in college playing Dixieland jazz to now. He likens the journey to traversing a waterway, “This river that runs through all of my performing and recording from the earliest times, it’s essentially what we did [during the sessions]. It’s a special recording and I look forward to getting back together with the musicians…and doing more, taking it out and playing for audiences somewhere. I’d love to play it for a bunch of people with thirsty ears.”

Rudd’s conviction and the group’s likeminded actions and reactions to playing ‘in the moment’ are born out during the opening title track, which sets the climate for the rest of the CD. Saft presents a lithe introduction on his 1966 Steinway Model L piano, accompanied by Pándi’s delicate percussion, and then Rudd and Dunn complement the lingering ambiance: Dunn with light arco bass lines while Rudd adds a wah-wah effect via his trombone. The timbre heightens and escalates, and Saft delves into many facets of his keyboard with sharp phrases, flowing lines and explorative elements. Rudd follows suit, utilizing his plunger and strongly improvising, showing no slow down despite his years. Near the end, Rudd offers a few nods to jazz history with some slightly slurred trombone hints to his Dixieland and traditional jazz beginnings.

There’s no let-up on “The Bedroom,” where Pándi and Dunn create a commotion on a drums/bass intro, before Rudd jumps in, with cascading trombone lines and tones, smearing his notes. Meanwhile, Saft apparently crawls inside his piano—at least it seems like he does—to extract very unusual sounds from his piano’s innards, from clicking reverberations to a declarative din when he competitively strikes his piano strings. The material shifts dramatically on the wonderful, capacious ballad “Luminescent,” where Rudd is lyrical and well-mannered (for the most part), crafting a shadowed, gossamer feeling which nicely matches the piece’s designation. There’s an opposing sensibility through the spiky, rather unhinged “Dunn’s Falls,” where Dunn provides heady contrapuntal contours, acutely noticeable when he duets with Rudd, who supplies a motile mannerism with snarls, slurs, and other metamorphosed trombone noises. A twisted, non-compliant cadence swaggers through the record’s conclusion, the eight-minute “Struttin’ for Jah Jah,” which makes use of early New Orleans jazz stylings. But the foursome takes this familiar, musical root stock and transforms it for a 21st-century audience. “Struttin’ for Jah Jah” is filled with Rudd’s iconoclastic trombone; has a meaty groove furnished by Pándi and Dunn; and Saft flits with a constant stream of ideas as he pushes his instrument into fresh areas of creativity, while preserving a concentrated and fertile, Crescent City spirit. “Struttin’ for Jah Jah” is a unique testament to jazz past and present, the one track which fearlessly combines what has come before and what is happening right now. As with most (if not all) RareNoise releases, Strength & Power is meant for adventurous listeners who don’t mind hearing music which is off the normal jazz pathway, and is recommended in particular for Roswell Rudd fans who may be acquainted with his previous recordings.

TrackList: Strength & Power; Cobalt is a Divine; The Bedroom; Luminescent; Dunn’s Falls; Struttin’ for Jah Jah.

—Doug Simpson

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