Long-time readers of this blog know that I don't often venture beyond the 1940s and 1950s in my posts or album recommendations. I have nothing against jazz recordings made during the rock era. I just find that jazz during the 15 years after World War II was and remains exceptional. I also find that the quality of the music for the most part dropped off considerably once business interests made it impossible for jazz and jazz artists to succeed on a grand scale.
But occasionally, I come across a new release that is exciting and fresh. One such example is Dream Garden, from percussionist Adam Rudolph [pictured up top] and Moving Pictures, his octet. Dream Garden isn't jazz in the traditional sense. Nor is it fusion or free jazz. It's not even World music (whatever that means). Adam's music is more liberated than free jazz, much more dynamic than fusion and it brings the world back home. Through complex rhythmic patterns and brilliant instrumentation, Dream Garden is a vibrant collage that's soulful, edgy and refreshingly spiritual. [Top photo of Adam by Noureddine El Warari]
Many of the album's instruments and rhythms are from Bali, Cuba, Ghana, Haiti, India and Morocco. Each of Adam's compositions is culturally rich and strongly rooted in American improvisational jazz. A world traveler, Adam [pictured] has recorded since 1974 with Don Cherry, Rufus Reed, Yusef Lateef and many other spiritual expressionists.
Dream Garden opens with Oshogbo, which features an intricate combination of drums, horns and guitar that summon up West African landscapes and culture. To make this tune even more exciting, Graham Haynes' cornet has a late-period Miles feel weaving in and out of the drum patterns.
Twilight Lake is a soft, slower song featuring Adam, Hamid Drake and Brahim Fribgane on percussion; Steve Gorn on bansuri bamboo flute, and Shanir Blumenkrantz on sintir—a three-stringed Moroccan bass.
Happiness Road picks up the pace again, and you hear a new set of complex rhythms led by an instrument that sounds like a xylophone with a chest cold. Throughout the tune, we hear Gorn playing a joyous penny whistle. Cousin of the Moon is a balmy composition featuring a series of flutes and Ned Rothenberg on reed instruments.
Perhaps my favorite composition is Vision of Pure Delight, which has a Brazilian rain forest feel, while Spectral and Helix return to Ghanaian beats. All three songs are positively hypnotic. On Helix, Kenny Wessel's guitar is featured over a thick bed of percussion. The Sphinx incorporates Middle Eastern musical traditions, while Walking the Cure offers yet another mystical African beat. This album's personality shifts constantly and is like a fascinating dinner party guest.
In some ways it's unfair to talk about Dream Garden in terms of tracks, since the CD really is a concept album or global suite meant to be heard from beginning to end. Which is exactly how I've been listening to the album for the past two days. Dream Garden gives you a taste of the world's exciting musical rhythms.
After about 15 listens, I became so enthralled by the CD that I had to give Adam a call yesterday to learn more about the thinking that went into Dream Garden:
JazzWax: What were you trying to achieve here?
Adam Rudolph: I’m trying to express sincere feelings and thoughts to the listener through the music. I'm also trying to create a way for individual musicians in the group to be able to deeply express themselves and share these expressions with the listener.
JW: It's very free music, yet you never turn off the listener. That's some trick.
AR: [Laughing] I think people who like what we've done have come to realize that music comes from something greater than music. Music is about the expression of the musician’s heart and about touching the listener's emotions. I hope we've done that.
JW: It's difficult to categorize the music on this album, except to say that it's like spending time in dozens of intense cultures.
AR: You've touched on an important point. Our music isn't about one type of music. It's simply an expression with many different forms, textures and moods. Don Cherry put it best when he said, “Style is the death of creativity.” I am striving to remain free, artistically.
JW: Yet there's something familiar about your music. It's exotic but it doesn't alienate.
AR: What I try to do in each composition is zero in on an emotional color and utilize that color in ways that allow it to radiate forth. In Middle Eastern music, it's called “tarab”—this aesthetic lifting. When a musician is open to the music's source, in tune with the instrument being played, and free to express ideas and feelings, then the audience is going to feel that, and that energy comes back to the performer. This circle of energy then lifts the whole experience. My group, Moving Pictures [pictured], is communicating in the realm of vibration.
JW: Vibration? That's an interesting concept. Your music certainly vibrates with a special energy.
AR: Exactly. All music vibrates as it moves through the air and touches us, because we are vibrating, too. That's why music can be so powerful. Vibration is the combination of motion and color, or rhythm and harmonics. I think about rhythm in terms of math, language and dance. Max Roach [pictured] said along with the evolution of harmony, there has also been evolution in the approach to rhythm. My music is simply another attempt to take a step forward in that same journey. While my music may sound different, it's really the same approach that existed back in the 1940s and 1950s.
JW: How so?
AR: We are dealing with the same musical elements in an improvisational context. In performance, as in life, we don't know what's going to happen next. That's what makes both so exciting. My group is simply reflective of our experience here in this time period.
JW: So you have Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk in mind when you compose and play?
AR: Parker and Monk each created their own prototype in music that was reflective of their life experience. It's our responsibility to do this, too. To me, the tradition is to develop your own voice in the music. My experience was growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s. But I also have lived in Ghana and have traveled to many other foreign countries. So my experience includes all of that.
JW: There are so many percussion instruments running at once on your album. Then a trumpet will come in, followed by electric guitar or a wooden flute. It's so wild and peaceful.
AR: In Western music, there’s a tradition of linear theme and development. In African or Javanese music, for example, it’s not only about theme and development but also about layers of sound that can be heard vertically—what I call an "audio syncretic music fabric." That's what you're hearing.
JW: How did you absorb so much from so many different cultures?
AR: I have tried to cultivate a fundamental openness and humility. I have a real curiosity and respect for what I see and hear, and I try to absorb what I learn and experience. When I moved to Ghana in 1977, I was 21 years old and wanted to study drumming. Learning the music itself turned out not to be the most important thing about that experience. There were so many drum traditions there, I knew I could never master them all. So I began to look at the underlying ideas and principals and went deeper into how the music was organized. It was a profoundly transforming experience.
JW: It sounds like Ghana has had a big impact on your art.
AR: Definitely. Even more profound for me was seeing the connection between art and life. I realized during my stay that music grows from the ground up—that is, from the cosmology of the culture itself—in any environment. Then it moves into the attitudes, approaches and cultural functions. But the starting point for music and rhythms is the earth and nature. That's true in all cultures.
If you appreciate the feel of polished wood, the strong smell of aging leather and the taste of exotic food, you'll find Dream Garden just as sensual. If you dig jazz from the 1950s, I also think you'll dig this CD, since it, too, comes with tremendous passion, soul and craftsmanship. In Adam Rudolph's world, artistic influences come from every corner of the globe. Exciting stuff.
JazzWax tracks: Dream Garden, from Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, can be found here. For more information about Adam, Moving Pictures and the octet's upcoming concert appearances, go here. For Adam's YouTube channel, go here.