A huge outpouring of love engulfed Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York on Nov. 16 during a celebration of the great trombone innovator Roswell Rudd, who turned 82 the following day.
Saxophonist Archie Shepp, Rudd’s lifelong friend and colleague, headed up the bill along with more recent Rudd collaborators Heather Masse and Fay Victor, NRBQ’s Terry Adams, Steven Bernstein’s Sexmob and Rudd’s Trombone Tribe, featuring trombonists Ray Anderson, Steve Swell, Art Baron, Deborah Weisz and Josh Roseman.
Rudd, who was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in 2013 and has recently started another round of radiation, was in attendance but felt too weak to perform. Instead, he took in all the tunes and testimonies throughout the evening from his wheelchair in the audience.
Rudd’s partner, Verna Gillis, opened the proceedings by proclaiming, “Music, love of music and the great mystery has brought us here tonight. And as Roswell said, ‘We’re all trying to be part of the great fundamental.’”
First up was the Trombone Tribe, Rudd’s answer to J.J. Johnson’s Brass Orchestra. Drummer Kenny Wollesen’s opening gong triggered a free fanfare before the group settled into the gospel-tinged theme of “Love Song For Rudd,” a piece co-composed by the trombonist and Gillis. Bernstein, who also conducted the group, melded convincingly into the phalanx of trombones with his slide trumpet as tuba ace Bob Stewart held down the groove alongside Wollesen. Baron broke out his most raucous tailgater chops on Rudd’s “Bone Again” before all five trombonists got to trade eights over the earthy party-time pulse. Stewart’s multiphonics on tuba added to the revelry. Following their invigorating set, trombonist Swell addressed Rudd in the audience: “As a 15-year-old kid from New Jersey, hearing what you played on ‘Wherever June Bugs Go’ [from Shepp’s 1966 recording Live In San Francisco] woke me the fuck up! I love you for waking me up, man, and keeping me awake all these years.”
Pianist Adams, an eccentric player with a strong affinity for the idiosyncratic styles of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, next played two quirky solo pieces, including the poignant “Lonely Shoe,” which carried the refrain: “Without you, I’m just one shoe.” He was joined by Sexmob (Bernstein, Wollesen, alto saxophonist Briggan Krauss and Mark Helias subbing for regular bassist Tony Scherr) and guest Baron for the Rudd original “Poochie & The Bird,” a Latin-tinged tune the trombonist had recorded with the great Puerto Rican cuatro Yomo Toro for their 2007 collaboration, El Espiritu Jibaro.
Masse, Rudd’s upstate New York neighbor and a member of the folk trio The Wailin’ Jennys, followed with some personal testimony. “I remember hearing his beautiful, soulful trombone echoing against the pine forest in Kerhonkson,” the singer said. “He’s like part of the wildlife out there. And he’s the most soulful, most present person I’ve ever met.” Masse was accompanied by Helias and nylon-string guitarist Rolf Sturm on “Song For Roswell,” which carried the line: “Here you are, salt of the earth, singing the sounds from your swinging youth/ And I want you to know that I love you so/ I’m not ready to let you go.” Shepp, in breathy Ben Webster mode, joined the group for a rendition of Herbie Nichols’ “Love, Gloom, Cash, Love,” which Masse wrote lyrics for at Rudd’s request.
Bernstein prefaced his Sexmob set with this remembrance: “I grew up in Berkeley, went to Black Panther Summer Camp, thought every Jewish household had a copy of Soul On Ice. But hearing Live In San Francisco when I was 13 just blew me away.” Their version of Rudd’s “Rosmosis” (from the New York Art Quartet’s 1965 self-titled debut) provided some of the most invigorating abstractions of the evening.
Shepp, accompanied by Helias, Wollesen and pianist Lafayette Harris, then filled Dizzy’s with his big tenor tone on a tender rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s melancholy ballad “My Little Brown Book,” which also had him channeling his inner Arthur Prysock and a touch of Al Hibbler as he soulfully crooned the bittersweet lyrics. Looking regal seated in his suit, hat and elegant scarf, the 80-year-old Shepp next dug into Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” with bluesy abandon, occasionally flying into the altissimo range on his expressive solo while at one point quoting briefly from the 1944 Bing Crosby hit “Swinging On A Star.”
Victor, a dynamic singer and thrilling improviser, concluded the evening with pianist Harris and bassist Ken Filiano performing a funkified rendition of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” reprising that fresh arrangement from Rudd’s latest RareNoise Records release, Embrace. Then, off stage, Bernstein led the horns through a chorus of “Happy Birthday” as a final salute to the sage-like man of the hour.
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