Adam Rudolph, Go: Organic Guitar Orchestra – Turning Towards the Light – Cuneiform Rune

Adam Rudolph, Go: Organic Guitar Orchestra – Turning Towards the Light [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform Rune 406, 54:14 [10/2/15] ****:

(Rez Abbasi, Nels Cline, Liberty Ellman, David Gilmore, Miles Okazaki, Marvin Sewell – elec. guitar, effects; Damon Banks – bass guitar; Marco Cappelli – acoustic guitar, effects; Jerome Harris – elec. bass, lap steel guitar; Joel Harrison – elec. guitar, national steel guitar; Kenny Wessel – electric guitar, banjo; Adam Rudolph – composer, cond.)

What do you get with 11 guitars, plus improvisational music which interconnects jazz, free improv, rock, world music influences, and non-specific, genre-less inclinations? The result is composer, bandleader and percussionist Adam Rudolph’s debut of his Go: Organic Guitar Orchestra, his all-guitar ensemble. This unique string collective is an off-shoot and continuation of Rudolph’s ongoing Go: Organic Orchestra (which has issued nine previous projects). The 54-minute, 13-track outing, Turning Towards the Light, was appropriately taped on the winter solstice of 2014, which is the northern hemisphere’s longest night of the year. After that moment in the calendar, time heads into the oncoming of extended daylight.

Rudolph is exceptionally qualified for this adventurous endeavor. He’s performed, studied with and collaborated with L. Shankar, Foday Musa Suso and others. He’s recorded with Sam Rivers, Wadada Leo Smith, Pharoah Sanders, Bill Laswell, Herbie Hancock, Shadowfax and was Yusef Lateef’s long-time partner. During Rudolph’s four-decade-and-counting career he has formulated an inimitable rhythmic field of study and performance he has dubbed Cyclic Verticalism, in which African-derived polyrhythms are combined with Indian-descended rhythm cycles, to generate new forms of musical expression. Rudolph utilizes this unarranged approach with his Organic Guitar Orchestra, and the outcome is a comprehensive palette of harmonics, melodies, rhythms and other sonic elements crafted by some of NYC’s most explorative guitarists, comprising Marco Cappelli [misspelled in the CD credits], Joel Harrison, Kenny Wessel, Jerome Harris, Rez Abbasi, Nels Cline, Liberty Ellman, David Gilmore (the veteran session man and former Wayne Shorter band member, not the guy in Pink Floyd), Miles Okazaki (part of Steve Coleman’s group, the Council of Balance), Marvin Sewell (his credits include Pat Hall) and bass guitarist Damon Banks. Rudolph acts as the approximate equivalent of conductor. That’s a lot of sounds, including electric and acoustic guitars, effects, lap steel guitar, national steel guitar, banjo, and electric bass. The instrumentation, however, is equalized: different guitarists play on assorted tunes. The 11 artists do not compete and rarely perform together as a large unit.

It’s hard to depict how the guitarists manufacture sounds akin to percussion instruments, woodwinds, brass, a string section and more, but they do. The mysterious “Galactic Drift,” for example, has an unorthodox quality, where Wessel and Cline provide futuristic improvisations, while other players contribute variable, rhythmic components, nearer in nature to Derek Bailey’s free jazz than anything in the traditional jazz range. The lengthiest piece, “Flame and Moth,” has a circular architecture, with an ambiguous blues undertone, fuzzed-up electric guitar which hints at ‘70s classic rock, and an East Indian rhythmic underpinning which features a 21-beat structure. There’s a slight mainstream focus on “Specular,” where a solid blues groove (albeit a crooked one, nine beats against 12) dominates, and there is a formal energy which is disparate from the amorphous dynamism inherent in other cuts. Gilmore and Wessel’s electric guitars duel with impactful extemporization.

Other tracks seem inspired by painters. The brief “Scintillant” has a spontaneous trait which is rough and unruly. The CD liner notes aptly portray this spacey nugget as “J. Pollock-esque,” and Cline’s no-holds-barred electric guitar suitably spits and sprays in a mad dash of notes. The CD booklet also fittingly describes the otherworldly “Plane of the Ecliptic” (the title refers to the apparent path of the sun on the celestial sphere), as having “traces of abstract expressionist patterns of thought.” Undeniably, this slowly-evolving piece has a Mark Rothko-ish characteristic, particularly in the use of contrasting, yet complementary, auditory hues. Rudolph maintains the solstice concept to the album’s conclusion. Just as the solstice ends and light begins to linger, so too does the CD head toward light. A specific route exerts strength during the rock-ish “Heliotropic,” which has a repeating motif via Abbasi and Ellman’s locked-in electric guitars. Turning Towards the Light closes with the title track, where massed guitars establish a presentation similar to Rhys Chatham or Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestras of the early 1980s. “Turning Towards the Light” is fronted by a resonating theme which fades in, aggressively glides for more than six minutes, and then fades out. Turning Towards the Light is the epitome of creative activity, in two ways: the obvious one is the musicianship, but this album also demands effective listening by people willing to engage actively in the material.

TrackList: Sun Salutation; Nommo; Solar Boat; Galactic Drift; Flame and Moth; Lambent; Sol Sistere; Specular; Scintillant; Plane of the Ecliptic; Refracted; Heliotropic; Turning Toward the Light.

—Doug Simpson

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