By Howard Mandel | Published March 2022
Trombonist and ethnomusicologist Roswell Rudd, whose burly, robust warmth was so thoroughly grounded in the whole of the world’s music as to transcend genre, has been sorely missed since his death at age 82 in 2017. But he’s fully present in these almost two-decades-old, newly available duets with equally far-ranging fingerstyle guitarist Duck Baker, at 15 years younger something like his protégé. The stellar audio that makes up this vinyl set was recorded live at two performances from the duo: Tracks 1-2 and 6-8 were recorded at The Outpost in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2004, while tracks 3–5 and 9-10 were recorded at Tonic in New York in 2002.
The unusual jazz trombone-folk guitar format provides for an unusual paring , one that requires a delicate balance regarding timbre and dynamics, which these players achieved through listening closely to each other. Phrasing like he’s speaking even in passages of exploration or abstraction, Rudd is a natural storyteller, full of detail and personality, although sometimes fond of meandering to his points.
Baker provides lovely, lilting rhythms, precisely graceful touch and rich personal imagination. He plays with some deference to the trombonist’s history — encompassing the Yale students’ trad band that opens Jazz on a Summer’s Day, the New York Art Quartet, associations with Steve Lacy, Archie Shepp, Sheila Jordan, Toumani Diabaté, Yomo Toro and many others — yet is treated as a peer.
The horn and strings are interdependent, easily wrapping around each other or swapping lead/comping roles, as on “Bemsha Swing,” creating a companionable, inviting dialogue.
The two take pleasure — and provide it — frolicking with themes by Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols.
They also bounce bits from Foster, Sousa, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood at each other in improvs based on free association and non sequitur, to the point of testing the limits of playing together separately — as Baker does notably on his album of duets Confabulations with iconoclast guitarist Derek Bailey. Rudd is on a track there, too. “Going West” features the pair either having difficulty locking into any common ground or consciously defying the very notion of attempted harmonization, stretching what’s one. Charles Ives did that, too.
Leave it to historically conscious maximalists to perform a sly experiment in radical deconstruction.
Live: The Happenings; Buddy Bolden’s Blues; A Bouquet For JJ; Melancholy People; Well You Needn’t; Bemsha Swing; Going West; Light Blue; Show; Church. (62:07)
Personnel: Roswell Rudd, trombone; Duck Baker, guitar.
Ordering Info: dottimerecords.com