Trombonist Roswell Rudd Packs A Lot Of Wisdom Into Every Note Of 'Embrace'

Dec 22, 2017
Originally published on December 28, 2017 9:30 am
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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Trombonist Roswell Rudd started out playing Dixieland then graduated to free jazz. He was an early champion of composers Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. Later, Rudd would play with various brass bands from around the world as well as leading his own groups. Rudd has a new quartet album. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY STRAYHORN SONG, "SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Roswell Rudd on Billy Strayhorn's "Something To Live For." Rudd has always had a glorious sound on trombone, even when he played a lightweight student model. When I first saw him in concert, I was surprised he wasn't bruisingly (ph) loud because his sound projects so dramatically, but that's true even when he drops to a stage whisper.

Roswell Rudd's sound can be so voice-like, especially when he shapes his notes with a plunger mute. It's no wonder he gets on with singers like the one on his new album "Embrace," Brooklyn's Fay Victor.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS")

FAY VICTOR: (Singing) I thought, for once, I couldn't go wrong - not for long. I can see the way this ends. He's going to turn me down and say, can't we be friends? Never again. Through with love. Through with men. They play their game without shame. And who's to blame? Oh-oh. I thought I found a man I could trust. What a bust. This is how my story ends. He's going to turn me down and say, can't we be friends?

WHITEHEAD: Fay Victor and Roswell Rudd had bonded over a mutual love of Herbie Nichols' tunes. But that was just the start. Her own low swoops and fine tuning of pitch, her bends, moans and growls fit right in with his. Like him, she also has a dramatic sense of phrasing. Lest you miss the parallels, they kick off one old ballad by imitating each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I HADN'T ANYONE TILL YOU")

VICTOR: (Singing) I hadn't anyone till you. I was lonely one till you.

WHITEHEAD: The other half of the quartet on "Embrace" is half the reason trombonist Roswell Rudd and singer Fay Victor sound good together. Pianist Lafayette Harris tracks them measure for measure. If the trombonist adopts a mild Latin inflection, Harris is right on it. Bassist Ken Filiano keeps everyone in this drum-less quartet in rhythmic alignment. And using a bow, he makes the bass sing. Those rhythm players bring the bounce to the album's one new song, a witty meditation on aging by Rudd's partner, producer Verna Gillis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOOK IN THE MIRROR")

VICTOR: (Singing) I look in the mirror, and who do I see? She kind of vaguely reminds me of me. I'm not as I was. I am as I am. It's all about acceptance, the best that I can. For many of us, it's the second time around. We've lost who we've lost. We've found who we've found. Love and hope spring eternal as we go around. The comforts we find in each other are bound. It is what it is. It's not what it's not. Oh, just to be grateful for all that I got.

WHITEHEAD: This album's look back at life and classic tunes has a valedictory air. The quartet also play Monk's "Pannonica," Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and "The House Of The Rising Sun." Rudd had been ill a few years, at the time of this 2016 recording, but paces himself well and doesn't waste a move. Like other greats who've reached a certain age, he packs a lot of wisdom into every note. But he sounded like a wise, old soul long before that. "Embrace" is vintage Roswell Rudd, and that is saying something.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSWELL RUDD SONG, "HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN")

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Embrace," the final album by Roswell Rudd. Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews "Phantom Thread," the latest movie from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and quite possibly the last movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO'S "HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.