Roswell Rudd 17/11/35 – 21/12/17

Roswell-Rudd

Trombonist Roswell Rudd, who lost his battle with cancer at the tailend of last year, will be remembered as a musician whose curiosity as well as virtuosity never deserted him. His final release, 2017's Embrace, was an absolutely beautiful record on which Rudd took equal billing alongside vocalist Faye Victor, pianist Lafayette Harris and double-bassist Ken Filiano. The quartet breathed new life into the music of jazz legends Monk and Mingus, as well as ageless folk songs such as 'House Of The Rising Sun'.

If that album underlined the glowing lyricism of Rudd's playing then its predecessor, 2016's Strength And Power, served notice of his deep immersion in the blues and, more interestingly, its confluence with both New Orleans and avant-garde traditions. Therein lay Rudd's importance. The Connecticut-born player, who arrived in New York in the late 1950s, saw, and indeed, became part of the interchange of mainstream and free jazz, and was happy to let his muse take him to whichever players shared the same openness of mind. His membership of the historic combo New York Art Quartet remains one of his most important credits, alongside work with Albert Ayler, Don Cherry and Sunny Murray. Yet saxophonist-vocalist Archie Shepp proved to be one of Rudd's most enduring partners, with the pair collaborating many times over the years, occasionally with poet Amiri Baraka. Like the aforementioned, Rudd, whose deep, bassy growl and swooning phrases packed a great emotional as well as sonic punch, was also interested in non-western music, and his collaborations with players from Mali to Mongolia produced several fascinating and joyous recordings. Also noteworthy were Rudd's solo albums, the best of which are Flexible Flyer and Numatik Swing Band.

I was lucky enough to interview Rudd shortly before he passed and was struck by his generosity of spirit, and, even as he struggled under the effects of gruelling radiation therapy, his undimmed passion for life as well as the musicians who chose to celebrate it. He will be missed for his humanity as well as ingenuity.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Ilene Cooper

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