Research, Articles & Interviews
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Interviews with Adam Rudolph
Writings by Adam Rudolph
“I feel that creativity is greater than religion. It transcends race, transcends socio-political boundaries. It’s one of the things that defines us as human beings.”
At the risk of oversimplification, you could argue that this statement is a credo of sorts for Adam Rudolph, the basis of his personal philosophy. Consequently, it is probably the best starting point from which to examine the percussionist’s approach to music in its most comprehensive sense: how it’s produced, how it’s heard, how it’s interpreted, understood and enjoyed.
Rudolph himself is something of a riddle. He delves further into complicated theories so that he might arrive at simplicity. He grapples with transcendence in order to better capture the fleeting present. He values music so intensely that he refuses to limit his learning to music alone; yet everything he learns becomes reapplied to music.
With regards to the latter especially, Rudolph’s conclusions about the world and his place in it do not derive from a single source or field of study. His philosophy is infused with the writings of thinkers such as Noam Chomsky and Friedrich Nietzsche, shaped further by his direct contact with musicians such as Don Cherry and Yusef Lateef, and one which to some extent reflects the nebulous spirituality espoused by more than a few of the Californians among whom Rudolph now lives. And, naturally, this eclecticism has come to include and influence his chosen artistic vehicle.
Performing, he maintains, is a matter of “humbly trying to be prepared to let things flow out,” channelling one’s inner voice and a cosmic creative power through an instrument. “I try to tap into that sense. Wherever that source of creativity is, it feels like something great. You could even say it’s like dipping into a river. But there’s also something mundane about it, because all human beings have [that ability].”
For Rudolph, this mix of self-expression and otherworldly inspiration isn’t an entirely new development. Since he was first introduced to the hand drum during his youth in Chicago, he has held firm to the belief that there is more to playing an instrument than technique, and more to technique than proper finger or hand placement. He read extensively, travelled widely (first to Ghana, then to Sweden), performed (branching out into all types of percussive instruments), composed (alongside world music progenitor Don Cherry) and studied (graduating from Oberlin with a degree in Ethnomusicology and later an MFA from California Institute of the Arts) in order to discover new ideas and then combine them into something cohesive and useable, always with the aim of advancing his craft.
“If I wanted to have a long-term, evolutionary life in music,” he explains, “I had to study and learn everything in music that attracted me. I didn’t come up as a classical musician. I started out playing hand drums in the park and then playing with Fred Anderson. And that music was not western-oriented. There weren’t pedagogical books I could study.” He had to go in search of learning experiences.
This restless curiosity is reflected in the sheer number and variety of Rudolph’s musical projects. He leads the Go: Organic Orchestra, his Moving Pictures ensemble and the Beyond the Sky Octet, and takes a less conspicuous role in countless others. But perhaps it is Pictures of Soul, his recent collaboration with Afro-Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, that could be considered the latest stage of this long-term musical evolution that began in the 1970s.
“Omar and I had never played together. We met and he said to me, ‘Let’s make a record,’ and so we did. We went into the studio and started listening to each other. We would just start together,” and the songs would then develop themselves. The nature of this duo work therefore showcases a more introspective and urgent side of Sosa, better known for his work with larger ensembles involving eight or more members. “Omar seems to be a seeker, and I consider myself an evolutionist and a seeker. He asked me to make this record and we wanted to make it a duet. I think for both of us it was an opportunity to work with each other – there was a vibe, a feeling of connectedness – and also to have something new.”
“In the broadest sense, I was bringing the sensibility and creative attitude I bring to any project I would do,” says Rudolph, taking care to note his concerns with “ideas of emptiness and form” during the session, “which has to do with being in the moment and bringing your life experience and technical experience and creativity into the moment of creating spontaneously in conjunction with other people.”
Paired with the likeminded and musically articulate Sosa, he took part in a musical conversation in an atmosphere of complete freedom, meaning in this context a total absence of inhibition and convention. To wit: in jazz, there is usually an assumption that one performer will solo while the other marks time. Here, says Rudolph, “we could both be soloing at once,” referencing a point of apparent discord in the song “The Call” in which Sosa and Rudolph are at musical odds with each other. “It was an interesting moment. He was playing some kind of melodic, romantic theme, and my playing was something altogether different.”
He explains that this is indicative of his attempts to balance the musical statements of his collaborative partner, and vice versa - a dark to offset a light, a yin to match a yang.
“Sometimes what I wanted to do is provide contrasting elements. Call it kinetic, call it romantic – to me, there’s contrast, and if you put red next to blue, the red gets redder. It’s the poignancy and beauty of hearing a romantic line when it’s juxtaposed with something else. It’s alchemy.”
This juxtaposition is fundamentally the same as the Indian concept of rasa, a means of aesthetic evaluation first posited by Bharata Muni in his ancient theatrical treatise Natya Shastra. It is normally linked with the word “swadana” to signify the “tasting of the true flavor.” Rudolph translates the term as “emotional coloration.”
“We might call it mood. Or a transcendent feeling. I try to focus like a laser into the emotional essence and expressive quality of music at the same time as I’m trying to make it as free as possible. And those are almost diametrically opposed. Maybe the tension is what creates some kind of beauty in the music. I don’t know.”
“I always think orchestrally,” he adds, elaborating with a visual illustration of instrumental possibilities: “You can have parallel lines, oblique lines, a wavy line and a straight one. When you hold your hand up in front of a window, your see your hand, the houses, the trees and maybe the mountains beyond, but these are all distinct entities that you’re seeing. More than one reality can be described at one time. We don’t have to experience music in a linear sense, which is what we’re taught to do.” Keeping this in mind, he aspired to create a “three-dimensional phenomenon” with “emotional depth” on Pictures of Soul, just as he does elsewhere in his music.
In the end, though, these principles always seem to go full circle, ending at their singular origin. “It’s all about creating in the moment – right now, and then now, and then now – and being a conduit for expression. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Life is like that too. Philosophically, only the moment exists. We love to look back and hope or fear the future, but all that exists is the moment. We live in the delusion of routine. But it’s an illusion, what they call the eternal now.”
In this way, Pictures of Soul, released through Rudolph’s own Meta Records, was for him the fusion and application of these multifarious ideas. The album’s title speaks to how this was ultimately achieved: via snapshots of the innermost regions of the self, the place where the individual mingles with the universal. But it would be a mistake to think of this album as the exhaustion of Rudolph’s ever-developing ideas. Pictures of Soul is only one fraction of an intricate whole.
This month will bring about the release of another duo record, Beautiful, this time coupling Rudolph with fellow percussionist and Don Cherry acolyte Hamid Drake. It will be issued by the UK label Soul Jazz under the moniker Hu Vibrational. In what might seem like a radical departure from his joint efforts with Sosa and Lateef, not to mention his larger ventures with his Organic Orchestra, this project will be “more dance-oriented” and geared for a slightly more club-going audience. “It’s all acoustic,” Rudolph notes, as if to pre-emptively answer purist indignation.
In August 2004, Meta is scheduled to release another album, Rudolph’s Vista Trio with Sam Rivers and Harris Eisenstadt. It was recorded the day before the distinguished saxophonist’s eightieth birthday. “Sam came over after Harris organized it. We recorded it in a day,” he recalls.
“Sam hears everything: all the overtones, all the tuning of my drums. He has such an imagination and he has no technical limitations. That’s a formula for success in creative music-making. The two most important elements are listening and imagination. When you hear something, it inspires you to go into different kinds of places. And if you can imagine it, you can do it.”
Stepping back briefly, In the Garden, a double-CD concert recording featuring Go: Organic Orchestra and his longtime mentor Yusef Lateef was issued in late 2003, also on Meta. Although it was the third Organic Orchestra disc, it was Lateef’s first recorded outing with the group.
“I’m interested in varying my musical palette,” explains Rudolph. “Musicians always have more than one musical idea going on. And I always enjoy working in a collaborative sense with musicians who I respect and who challenge me and I can offer something to. I’ve never been a journeyman, where I work with 1,001 people. Yusef is special because he’s been my mentor and my teacher and he treats me as a peer. He’s opened a lot of doors both creatively and personally.”
Yet another Rudolph brainchild, Go: Organic Orchestra is a twenty-four-piece Los Angeles-based ensemble comprising twelve woodwind players (flutes, clarinets, bansuri flute, bassoon, oboe and bamboo flutes) and twelve percussionists (udu drums, congas, djembes, riq, frame drums, tabla, dumbek, bata, gongs). Instead of relying on written notation, Rudolph conducts them in an improvisational style using physical gestures and signs.
“We perform in a completely open format. We create this sonic landscape, but the kind of music we do invites the listener to be an active participant. And it’s exciting for an audience. It’s like reading a great book.” Rather than being a major breakthrough in music, this is merely getting back to basics. “The first creative gestures humans made had language and dance and music and painting. Just think of the first time humans came together, gathered around the fire. You know there had to be some music going on and storytelling.”
“People listen to music for a lot of reasons – comfort, nostalgia, background music, lifestyle. And I appreciate all of that. But I’m interested as an artist in reflecting my experience as an artist. This is one of the funny things about CDs, too, because the music should be live music. The energy of the audience is captured. It’s thrilling because it has a lot of authenticity and love, and this vision of real freedom and real democracy in an idealized sense.”
In addition to this push towards greater freedom and egalitarianism, the Organic Orchestra incorporates several other disparate ideas that hark as far back as Rudolph’s early experience composing with Don Cherry in Sweden.
“While I was there, Don started showing me some of Ornette Coleman’s concepts of composition. I have always had an uneasy relationship with Western music. My idea is to have an improvisational concert with as much aesthetic and functional focus in each piece of music with the least amount of written music possible. I’m trying to get away from the paper.”
The resulting hand gestures and signs are part of a unified system Rudolph calls Cyclic Verticalism. This system uses African polyrhythms in combination with Indian rhythm cycles; this in turn gives birth to the music/letter grids, language and sonic themes, Indian ragas and “diadic and intervalic harmonies” Rudolph uses to conduct the orchestra. It also spills over into his other projects.
“It’s a compositional tool. I wasn’t composing rhythm figures for the session with Omar the way I do with the Organic Orchestra. But it’s something I deal with every day, so it’s very much a part of my hand drum language. I used these grids and graphic notations that are the cells from which I conduct [the orchestra] and I gave them to Omar. It was something new for him, some of these 9-tone rows, but he was open to it. He got it. And it worked.”
While all this talk about Cyclic Verticalism and diadic harmony has the potential to sound like a foreign tongue, Rudolph isn’t out to alienate anyone. The way he sees it, complexity is another route to simplicity.
“The thing is,” he says, “in music, the more you move into higher spheres, it’s like moving into the highest dimensions in physics. As you step above styles, you see the elements that go into creating music, and they’re more and more simple. In terms of tonality, it’s all based upon overtones. Everything in rhythm mathematically comes in 2 or 3. Odd is the male energy. Even is the female energy. The tension comes from the male and female rhythms.”
Rudolph also forgoes heady theorizing when giving drum workshops for beginners. Because he embraces the rather generous opinion that the capacity for art rests in everyone, he doesn’t believe that it’s absolutely necessary to know the ins and outs of composition in order to create something genuine and meaningful.
“One of the greatest things is to inspire people to do something creative themselves. Music is for anybody. We end up creating some amazing music by the end of the [workshops]. One of the reasons I started the Organic Orchestra was that I felt that it was time for me to be doing some mentorship of young musicians. This music is an oral tradition. It’s not really taught in schools. Miles came up with Charlie Parker, McCoy Tyner came up with Trane, and with my own coming up with Don Cherry and Big Black as a hand drummer, and later Yusef – he’s been my most important mentor since 1988 – I felt like it was time for me to bring more of that to the scene out here. Not to say that the musicians are all beginners. Even if they’re the most sophisticated players, there are a lot of things they haven’t had experience with. It’s just sharing something. Music doesn’t belong to anybody. People can argue about what they want to own and have a lawsuit, but at the end of the day, this is creativity, this is about our humanity and it isn’t about ownership.”
“The origins of consciousness are in creativity,” he concludes on a shamanistic note, also – intentionally or not – returning to muse on his Grundsatz. “I don’t know how it started. I don’t know where the music is coming from. I don’t know what that mystery is.”
All material copyright © 2004 All About Jazz and contributing writers. All rights reserved.
Anyone reading this book already knows about the unique and deep beauty of Yusef Lateef’s sound. As with all the great musicians, we can recognize him upon hearing the first note. The Dogon people of Mali have a word, “mi”, which describes the inner spirit of a person expressed though the voice of their musical instrument. When we hear Yusef play, we hear his life story. I have seen Yusef play the entire modern history of the tenor saxophone in one solo. I have also witnessed many times both audience and performers moved to tears by his flute playing. This extraordinary musician and human being has been sharing his music with us for over 6 decades. Now we have an opportunity to read his life story.
I first met Brother Yusef Lateef in the summer of 1988 when I was living in Don Cherry’s loft in Long Island City, New York. We rehearsed there for a concert of Yusef’s with our group Eternal Wind (Charles Moore, Ralph Jones and Federico Ramos and myself) and Cecil McBee. In rehearsal, he approached my compositions with a genuine interest and respect that set the tone for our relationship for years to come. I was in awe of his deep musical brilliance and felt honored to be working with him. In the ensuing 18 years, Yusef has become a true and dear friend, really like family. At the same time I still consider him to be my most important teacher, not only in music itself, but also in how to live as an artist and human being.
That concert, produced by the World Music Institute, took place at Symphony Space in New York. Yusef had written all new music specifically for the occasion. I realize now that this is how he always works. He has brought newly written music (and often new creative processes and concepts) to each of the many concerts and record dates I have ever done with him. Yusef has said on several occasions “with each project I try to do something I have never done before”. I have often reflected upon this; one of many seeds of wisdom that Yusef has generously shared. For me, it suggests the idea of three qualities that I value deeply and which I see Yusef himself embodies in his life and work: creative imagination, studiousness and courage.
Yusef, like all great artists, has never been afraid of what others thought. He has followed his own muse; cultivating his imagination with lifelong study and fearless experimentation. In the mid-1950s, he was perhaps the first improvising artist to embrace Middle Eastern and Eastern modes, rhythms and instruments into his music. When asked about this, he told me that he wanted to have a long career creating music and to do so he would have to study as much about all kinds of music as possible in order to vary his musical palette. Again, some words to live by for the serious musician.
The first recording I heard of Yusef’s was one of his early forays into an expanded western “classical” orchestration. As a fourteen year old growing up on the south side of Chicago, I was excited to be discovering both live and recorded music. I regularly raided my father’s vast record collection. “The Centaur and the Phoenix” thus found a regular rotation on my turntable and, I might add, it still sounds fresh today. When I recently asked Yusef about that project, he told me he wanted to move beyond the codified instrumentation and harmonic materials prevalent at that time and “try something new”. This creative attitude has served Yusef well, up to the present day. He says: “when you get rid of one thing you have to replace it with something else.” As I see it, this means first having the courage to abandon something one may have invested years in developing (in Yusef’s case the harmonic structures that he and Barry Harris refined throughout the 1950’s and 60’s). Then one must have the imagination to think of a genuinely new approach that must be grounded in a foundation of deep musical knowledge and substance. This is no small task. One could imagine the period since Yusef’s return from Africa up to today as similar in creative inventiveness and freedom as was the period 1965-67 of his good friend and fellow evolutionist, John Coltrane. In fact Yusef often quotes one of Coltrane’s favorite sayings: “Knowledge will set you free.”
Because of my association with Brother Yusef, I had the good fortune to have my mind opened in this way. When Yusef and I were discussing how to approach our second compositional collaboration “The World at Peace” for 12 musicians, Yusef suggested that for 2 of the movements I write for 1⁄2 of the instruments, telling him only which instruments I had written for, the tempo and how many bars long it was. He would then compose, without seeing my music, for the other 6 musicians. At the same time, he would compose 2 other pieces, sending me only which 6 instruments he had chosen, the tempo and how many bars. So it also became my job to compose for the other six musicians without having seen what he had written. This seemed to me a brilliant and original idea. We heard the combined music’s in rehearsal the day before our concert. We decided then and there that 3 out of the 4 compositions worked, in that it was music unlike any music we had ever heard before. At the same time it fulfilled our expressive intent or, as Yusef himself puts it: “As always, I meld my soul with the composition."
Several years later when we approached another compositional collaboration for an Octet, Yusef’s new idea was that we write in a formula of alternating sections for the entire ensemble. For example, I would write the first 5 bars, he would write the next 9 bars, I would write the next 7 and so on. The results were surprising, fresh and beautiful, and worthy of inclusion in our upcoming concert and recording. I was inspired by his courage and willingness try a completely new and unproven process in a major concert setting. I was also, of course, honored that he trusted me enough to invite me to collaborate with him on these and other occasions. As I reflect upon it now, I wonder - how does Yusef think of these ideas in the first place? Yusef seems to have no bottom to his wellspring of creative ideas, as anyone who as worked with him will attest. And this creative outpouring is not limited to music alone.
As I see it, Yusef is a prototype of the modern renaissance artist. He has refused to let any outside force or persons define him or his activities. He has invented himself from the creative “élan vitae” within, without boundaries and without fear. In addition to his enormous musical output (piano concertos, orchestral and chamber works, and dozens of compositions that have become central to the contemporary improvisers repertoire of “standards”), Yusef has written novels, books of poems and plays, lectures, dozens of musical pedagogical studies (of which “The Repository of Musical Scales and Patterns” stands as one of the most important music references books of the last 50 years) painted, started and run his own record company, and written numerous published articles including recent treatises on Confucius, on Lester Young, and on “The Heart”. He has invented and built new musical instruments, carved bamboo flutes, taught scores of students over the years and earned a Doctorate in Education.
I can see that Yusef applies a serious work ethic to his creative spirit. When I speak to him on the phone, even if it is after only a few days since our last conversation, we often discuss a composition he has just written or the new intervallic ideas he is practicing on the saxophone, or what he is reading or painting or studying at university or the new article he is writing. Yusef is a great motivator: he makes me aspire to my own creative potential. This is a gift I believe he has given to many.
As Yusef approaches his 85th year he continues full steam ahead with his life work. He is an inspiration and an example as an artist and as a human being. Anyone who has spent time with Brother Yusef will testify about how kind, gentle and humble he is. Whoever I see interact with Yusef, be it fan, colleague, or aspiring musician, all are elevated in consciousness and conversation in his company. To me, Yusef Lateef radiates peace. He is a truly luminous being. Or, to put it another way, as Yusef himself said to me the other day, “Brother Adam, have you ever noticed the leaves waving to you?”
In the great mystical traditions of the world, inner and outer realities are reflections of one another. Similarly, every music one can imagine in the minds ear already exists or has existed in its own unique interpretive design.
The creative process begins with the inner ear, with the imagination. The process continues with the manifestation of this inner auditory experience in the vibrational spectrum. Voice, instruments and human interaction enter the picture.This inner auditory vision is expressed as a unique human story through the development of musical language.
Any new musical language must be based on understanding existing music languages in their uniqueness and through their underlying universal principles The principles are based on an essence in its dual manifestation: Sound as rhythm and rhythm as sound.
In improvisational music, the human interplay of this manifestation becomes dialogue. It is the mirror which reflects both group and individual states at the moment of creation, bringing us together in our most human being.
- Adam Rudolph 1992
You are in a room without walls. Sky is everywhere.
Leaves dance and cones spin.
You hold a book. Hieroglyphic designs vibrate up from the page.
You read: Color of time is not transparent…
…transparent not is the time of color.
You read on: Not now, but before until…
…until before, but not now.
Who are these words and what are they doing?
Where are they going?
Follow them into the interior landscape of the author himself:
Meet Mr. and Mrs. Scorpii.
Hear their dialogue, a timeless song of call and response.
See the child dance in endophytic syntax.
Dream with the mutant of a semantic garb of humility.
The turbaned woman cheerfully asks:
“Who told you to do that?”
Although perhaps she meant:
“That do to you told who?”
Cafarelli, in a sincere gesture of heartfelt compassion, hands you a cup.
The water is pure. If you are thirsty, drink.
A vessel of clay, its roughness plays upon your lips.
Liquid spreads cool through you.
Light and music whisper in your ear.
A prototypic narration.
- Adam Rudolph
- Adam Rudolph 1997
What sentient being among us cannot recall a moment of being lifted from external surroundings or mental motion into a realm of open heartedness and emotional gladness upon hearing the resonant tones of deeply felt song? Who cannot recall an experience when music swept our very soul away, enveloping us in a sweetness transcendent of the mundane, speaking to our innermost self, to our very heart? This divine language as given to us, is a most profound reminder of our oneness with one another and all of the cosmic creation. It is what we call music.
Music is the language of the heart because it speaks to us through the (medium) essence of what we ourselves are: vibration. Mystics and physicists say that all earthly creation is in fact star stuff, sub-atomic particles vibrating at various rates. Music, too, is vibration, an essence whose dual manifestation is sound as rhythm and rhythm as sound. The musical artists' invisible alchemy is to arrange these overtones of sound as they move through time. Throughout the ages this art has been intimately intertwined with the mystic's path.
Music is a reflection of the hearts evolution. To communicate in that invisible realm invites us, both musician and listener, to reach into ourselves, to seek to know our own heart and speak of that which we discover. Every human who uses musical language tells us something about who they are in relation to their art and the world around them. When developed musical skills exist to serve an awakened soul, a great potential is created. For the potential to begin to manifest, compassion must inspire the artist to seek a dialogue, a sharing of realization.
Listening with the heart asks for the silencing of the mind which judges, filters, and compartmentalizes. It calls for a casting away of temporal limitations, an opening to the deepest sentiment of our own being, allowing our very soul to be touched. When this intention allows communication between us to occur, a cycle of enlightenment is created. The musician becomes creator and conduit, the musical instrument a voice and tool, and the listener an active partner in the creation of the transcendent state.
It is sometimes said that that which cannot be explained can still be understood. We seek to know ourselves as we exist in the universe and the universe which exists within us. Music, the language of the heart, is one of the paths to this realm of awakening. For those who are aware of the deep beauty and spiritual power of expression through sonic vibration, music is a most profound means by which we share with one another our souls most intimate and deep desire for universal consciousness.
- Adam Rudolph
Parabola Magazine – Vol. 26, #4,Winter 2001
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960's, the percussionists Adam Rudolph lived among jazz and blues musicians who, he says, were "so free and courageous in their creative attempts that they inspired me to find my own direction and follow my own imagination in music"
His imagination led him to embrace a broad range of the world's music forms. His ensemble, Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, will present some of them in Its debut performance on Friday at Symphony Space. The eclectic group includes Mr. Rudolph on hand percussion instruments from Africa and Asia, Susan Allen on harp and Korean zither, Ralph Jones on Western and traditional flutes and Albert (Tootle) Heath on African drums and Bulgarian flute. Making guest appearances will be the jazz saxophonist, flutist and world-music innovator Yusef Lateef and the Indian violinist L Shankar.
The group's debut album, which includes additional musicians, is to be released later this month on the Flying Fish label.
"I've tried to create a forum for musicians from varied backgrounds to fully express themselves in the moment," said Mr. Rudolph, who includes among his influences musicians in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, a major force in experimental jazz since the late 1960's.
"The foundation of what I'm doing comes from the African-American improvisational tradition, which is often called jazz so that's the glue that allows all musicians to perform together," he continued. "But stylistically, my music might sound like anything, depending on what I imagine in the composition."
Mr. Rudolph, who has appeared on recordings with such musicians as Mr. Lateef, Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock and Hassan Hakmoun, was a co-founder of the cross-cultural groups Eternal Wind and the Mandingo Griot Society. A pioneer in world music, he views the widening interest in music of other cultures as an inevitable step in the evolution of mankind.
"It's an enriching thing that people are open to hearing music from cultures other than their own," he said. "There is information carried in music that is specific to a culture and that we from another culture can't understand. But I've found that we can embrace the deeper human aspects from another culture because we can't deal with the temporal or culturally specific elements of it. We have to get to just feeling it, feeling the strength and beauty of it."
Cross-cultural musical endeavors are nothing new for percussionist Adam Rudolph. And in what some see as novelty or esoterica, Rudolph has found new ways to talk about rhythm, and new meters in which to converse. Walk up to one of those globes you always see in a junior high school library and give it a good spin. After a few rotations. jab it to a stop with your finger. If you are not pointing at water or some uninhabitable spot, chances are Adam Rudolph knows and/or plays a hand percussion instrument found at your fingertip.
As a performer and composer. Rudolph's cross-cultural collaborations with artists like Foday Musa Suso, Yusef Lateef, Hassan Hakmoun. and Don Cherry have set serious standards for the world music field that go beyond the random spinning and poking that some artists engage in. Co-founder of the seminal exploratory groups Mandingo Griot Society and Eternal Wind, Rudolph has always used his background in improvisational music to engage musicians from around the world in musical conversations that reach to their respective rhythmic cores.
Rudolph's approach to cross-cultural work can be summed up in one John Coltrane quote "Knowledge will set you free.'' "If you reflect upon that in relation to your own art.'' explains Rudolph, you realize that it is important to seek information about the art and craft of music wherever you can. That's really been my whole philosophy of world music, it's not looking for some sort of exoticism."
"If I want to know more about scales, then at some point I might start looking into ragas. If I am interested in how musical form is generated, I might look into Javanese gamelan. Some of those things might manifest in my music unconsciously in a piece of music that has its own rationale. It doesn't have to sound Indian-ish. but I might be thinking something about raga. Sometimes I can think of tala [the Indian concept of rhythmic cycles] as an organizing framework, but be playing ideas from African drumming, Max Roach, or something I heard in Balinese drumming. I don't think about it consciously. I have my own syncretic language on the drums now."
This language helps Rudolph to "talk" with musicians from other cultures. In 1988, Rudolph was on a return trip to Morocco, when Robert Browning of the World Music Institute in New York introduced him to a young Moroccan Gnawa musician, Hassan Hakmoun. The recording they made a few months later, Gift of the Gnawa (Flying Fish), was the first collaboration of its kind (several Gnawa collaborations have been released by other artists since). It took three years ears before Rudolph and Hakmoun were able to find a record label to distribute the recording. 'Here we were, ahead of our time again," says Rudolph ruefullly. "The labels didn't seem to be ready."
Today we wouldn't bat an eyelash at a recording which featured Moroccan sintir and Indian tabla. Rudolph says, "I've found that people who are steeped in the American improvisational tradition have an ability, a stance, a centering from which to make those creative gestures. Those efforts are most often the things I find have the most depth to them. When you tap into the African-American improvisational tradition you have to look at Africa. That's where a lot of the very successful collaborations-like Randy Weston working with the Gnawa-are happening, because it is already connected. There are all these bell/shaker patterns used all over West Africa as the organizing principle of the music in the way tala is used in India. There are dozens of these patterns, you hear them all the time in American music. You hear tikka-ding..chicka-ding..chick-ding..chicka-ding,' and that can be a ride cymbal from Philly Joe Jones but the karinya player with doussn 'gouni (hunter's guitar) music plays that in Mali too."
Rudolph is not enamored with all the cross-cultural projects currently on the market. "Deep Forest (Epic) [a recording of Pygmy songs set to ambient sounds and dance grooves] is a typical example of something everybody thinks 'Wow, it's wonderful,' but I think it is a really, really disgraceful thing. That music is thousands, tens of thousands of years old, some of the oldest music that still exists on the planet. It has evolved to a level of incredible sophistication and beauty in its own terms. You can hear in a pure form every quality, every musical element of every other music. There's the polyphony of Bach's music combined with an incredible polyrhythmic sophistication. And these guys go with a Western mind, sample that stuff and put these rhythms on top of it. Were the pygmies there when they mixed it? The music doesn't need to be filtered like this. They should market the music as it is, perfect."
But Rudolph himself, through his work with bands like the Mandingo Griot Society, has consistently put new spins on traditional music. He explains how this differs from projects like Deep Forest: "The first difference is that you have put your hands to the drum. Reaching into a drum to make that sound yourself is a different process from sampling something and pushing a button. Don't get me wrong. I use samples myself, but it is a whole matter of who is making the music, who has control of the music. If you go to Africa, come back, and create music, you are creating the music yourself with your instrument in hand. It's your sensibilities which are coming through. It is good to study tradition and to follow your intuition towards the music that attracts you. But the next step, and it is an essential step, is to move into finding your own voice. Nobody is going to be the next Zakir Hussain, but that doesn't mean you can't make a really beautiful statement on the instrument if you come at it from your own creative stance."
Cross-cultural projects are often portrayed in this country as the efforts of Western musicians seeking collaborations with other cultures, but very rarely the other way around. The United States is often viewed as the center of such projects, with everything stemming from there. "I don't look at it ethnocentrically myself," Rudolph says. "I work with musicians who I gravitate towards artistically like Yusef, Hassan, Shankar or Kevin Eubanks. It's definitely not revolving around America. I do find however, that American improvisational music, or 'jazz,' because it is a syncretic music by definition, and because it is able to absorb and adapt, has the great flexibility to move in harmony with the language of other musics."
Rudolph's compositional skills are kept honed by his current ensemble, Moving Pictures. He is also finishing up an opera and a second large-scale composition with Yusef Lateef called "The World at Peace." Throughout, Rudolph is guided by his own universal theory on rhythm. He explains: "I spent years studying tabla and the concept of tala along with usula, the Middle-Eastern concept of rhythm. I've studied West African and some East African drumming, Caribbean drumming, South American, and the "jazz" tradition. When I studied in Ghana, I looked around and saw that there were hundreds of drum traditions going on. A person could spend a lifetime attempting to master any one of them. I realized that as a composer and as a creative player I had to think of a way to understand the essence of how the music was organized. So I developed this concept I call cyclic verticalism."
"All rhythm breaks down into units of twos and threes," he offers. "When you look at it horizontally, moving through time, everything is a combination of 2's or 3 moving in cycles. So in Indian tala you make jhaptal, a ten beat cycle, with 2+3+2+3. Rupak is 3+2+2 and so on. African music is based on "vertical" polymeters. The fundamental polymeter is 2 against 3, something in 2 happening in the same space and time as something happening in 3. For example, much West African drumming is organized against some sort of bell or shaker pattern, usually you can feel that moving in groups of three or groups of two."
From that grid of 2+3 horizontally and 2 against 3 vertically you can create an endless grid of rhythm that I call cyclic verticalism. I have found ways of creating cycles which are odd meters but are polymetric. Right now I am writing a piece that has a 21-beat cycle moving in 7 sets of 3s and 3 sets of 7. There are different flows happening at the same time, but it has a feeling and a groove to it."
Though this sounds overly complex, Rudolph explains how he keeps the music out of the head and in the heart. "There's two underlying values that are essential to me in the music: Freedom and Love. We are looking for freedom in our creative path and in dialoguing with each other as artists. Love is more difficult to talk about. Whatever processes I described to you intellectually that I use as a composer or an improviser, the music has to pass the final assessment: does it express something significant? I've never been interested in percussion music, trying to show something on the drum. It is always in the service of greater spiritual and emotional things. I can only make the music as interesting and as emotionally potent as possible. I can only judge that as to how it touches me. We put it out there and hope people can make their way to it."
And what assures they'll understand the music? "There are no guarantees, but if I play disco music there are no guarantees. You can't second-guess an audience, and you certainly don't want to pander to an audience. The best you can do is create a situation to improvise and then in this moment of improvisation, step out of the way. Your technique exists so that when you step out of the way you can create music freely. Listening to the other musicians, treating them with compassion and respect, you step out of the way to allow as much beauty and refinement to come out as possible. "
The ability to understand music cross-culturally fascinates Rudolph. We don't know what Youssou N'dour or Umm Kalthum is singing, but we are touched. Even if it is just instrumental music like a raga. You hear Ali Akbar Khan and there's this incredible virtuosity happening but there's some quality which lifts us in our lives. I used to think we were unable to get as much out of the music as those who were brought up in a culture, understanding the language and all of the culture-specific information that was being transmitted. But I've come to feel that if we are really in tune with our ability to listen, we actually get more to the essence of what the music is really expressing when we don't have to deal with all of the cultural trappings."
"This is the great joy and mystery. The differences in musics from all over the world are obvious-different instruments, different sounds. It is easy to get together with a big collection of different instruments and play. But to find the connection, the universals the things that drive the musics in their sonic selves and their humanity, that is really what is incredible and profound. That's what s endlessly interesting to me. And with rhythm, there is no end, there's no bottom to the well."
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David Blank Edleman Rhythm Music Magazine
Theoretical physicists have recently speculated upon the existence of 11 dimensions. In the higher dimensions the laws of physics become more simple and inclusive. In depth study of music reveals that here, too, higher dimensions exist. The humanistic endeavor transcends stylistic directives. Vibration is color as well as motion. Language is poetry as well as rhythm. Intervals become as leaves waving in the wind.
Brother Yusef Lateef, in my view, is a composer and creative human being whose art travels in these higher dimensions, transcendent of medium or style. His telescope of intuition ranges far into deep space, towards new galaxies of thought and musicological processes. Freedom. Intuition serves the moment of creation. Love and compassion motivates the sharing of these gifts.
In the hands of Brother Yusef, thought, as an impulse serving the heart, become a creative gesture. The manifestation can be breath into a flute or breath on an ink droplet. His wellspring of intention may bring forth a novel or a symphony; a saxophonic journey (past to future/ground to sky) or a painting, a poem or a piano concerto. Always the story is deep, more than 8 decades of life experience coming through clear and beautiful. Look and listen: imagination, knowledge, and heartfelt expression are the guiding principles of real freedom. Brother Yusef’s cultivated intuition leads him (and any of us who chose so) into realms of imaginative flight and expression beyond what we think ourselves to be. So be it. Give thanks.
Adam Rudolph, 2003
You are holding in your hands the latest gem created by Dr. Yusef Lateef. For those who are not yet familiar with the work of Yusef Lateef, you are in for the most rewarding of surprises. For those of you who are aware of Yusef’s enormous contributions to 20th century music, I share your delight in opening this, his newest collection of music studies. “101 Duets for Treble Clef Instruments” stands as a valid artistic statement as well as a study for the furthering of ones own musical journey. It is both a distillation of 60 years of scholarship and performance experience as well as a reflection of Yusef’s most current interests.
It has been my pleasure to have had a musical and personal association with Yusef for almost fifteen years. During that time I have never ceased to be amazed at the wellspring of innovative compositional processes and music materials he continues to generate. As I see it, Yusef has been able to remain innovative over six decades because he possesses qualities of open mindedness, courage, self-reflection, and the perpetual desire to grow. He inspires me through his love of experimentation, his capacity to look at old elements in new ways, and his joy in trying new things. Yusef has quoted to me his close friend, and fellow seeker, the late John Coltrane: “Knowledge will set you free.” These are words to take to heart.
With “101 Duets for Treble Clef Instruments”, Yusef Lateef has again creatively and clearly provided a path towards freedom through discipline. In using this book, I would humbly suggest to let it be a living thing; an integral part of your own creative process. Use it to extend your technique and expand your hearing. Find the emotive aesthetic behind the notes on the page. Explore the methodology in the construction of each piece. Study it is as an inspiration for compositional ideas. Play the pieces as a springboard for your own Autophysiopsychic interpretations. Discover those universals in the sounds underlying diversity in expression. Bring yourself to this music; infuse it with your spirit and your life experience. As Yusef himself puts it: “As always, I meld my soul with the composition."
Adam Rudolph, 1999
"In Africa, there's a high level of understanding of the magic of sound. Sound is vibration, and all of creation is vibration, and we're all atoms vibrating at various rates, though we have the illusion of solidity. Many African traditions have reamed to combine the overtones, the coloration of music, with the motion of it, so that it can affect people's vibrations in a profound, transformative formative way."
You've gotta like the theory. How about in practice? On this chill January night at Venice's bare-bones Electric Lodge performance space, the particular format Adam Rudolph has chosen from the many in his repertoire allows him to cheat a bit: In addition to manipulating sound, he's exploiting the visual clout of Oguri, a Japanese improvisational dancer who often becomes a corporeal manifestation of the rhythms and accents rising from Rudolph's congas and other percussion paraphernalia, and bends with the electronic ghosts generated by Nels Cline's guitars, effects pedals, toy ray guns, etc. It's the first of six nights - three here, three at New York's Knitting Factory and progressive-jazz
viziers James Newton, Wadada Leo Smith, JosephJarman, Graham Haynes and Joseph Bowie are scheduled to succeed Cline as guest impressionist.
Wait. Where did that guy come from? A second ago, Oguri was absent; now he's there, frozen angularly in a trim charcoal suit, his sharp black shadow nailed to a white wall by a side light. He moves. For about an hour, he stop-frames through thousands of permutations of face and posture: stretching out desperate arms, trembling like paper, struggling against a mighty wind, eviscerating himself with an invisible knife, stretching, collapsing , visage seized at odd moments by a deadly stare or a horrible smile.
Much of this is prompted by Rudolph - the cavernous moans the percussionist gets by pressing a moistened fingertip across a conga head, the goat stampede he incites in his drums, the throat-singing Tuvan buzz he seems to produce from nowhere, the brief chants he occasionally shouts out. Cline, meanwhile, conjures unprecedented jangles and drones, subtly torturing his pickups and teasing out feedback. "I like doing it this way, he says afterward, downplaying the genius of his methodology. "I don't exactly play guitar - I sort of wave it around."
At the end, Oguri stands rigid at center stage. And. Section by bodily section. The tension. Ebbs. Out of him. And he's there, just a human. The catharsis hits like an ocean breaker, and the overcapacity audience, many sit tiny on floor pillows, goes nuts. All right, gang. You did it.
Though Rudolph has spent some 30 years studying percussion techniques from Africa, India, Indonesia and wherever, he's the first to say that the impact he achieves comes not from strict traditionalism, but from applying his knowledge to the fundamental emotions he shares with people all over the world. "You could devote a lifetime to one tradition and still not master it," he says, "because of the connection of the music to the local life itself People are playing their experience, and it's always been my desire to play mine."
That experience has been broad enough to forge links to most anybody. Raised in Chicago's Hyde Park district, Rudolph found himself, in the late '60s and early '70s, a neighbor to members of the experimental Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (Muhal Richard Abrams, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, etc.), as well as bluesmen Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. He caught a dose of hand-drumming fever from which he has never recovered, and, following a path that benefited Randy Weston, Art Blakey and Tony Williams, traveled to West Africa at age 21 to spend a year exacerbating his affliction.
Rudolph was one of the first to bounce diverse world music fans off each other, forming the Mandingo Griot Society with his old friend reedman Ralph Jones and Gambian kora player Foday Muso Susa in 1977, soon to be joined by Ornette Coleman's "twin," the late trumpeter Don Cherry, whom many credit with virtually inventing "world" music. Cherry added his indefinable smoke to much of Rudolph's music, including Gift of the Gnawa, a trancey 1991 project with the versatile Moroccan musician Hassan Hakmoun.
"Don was always finding a way to create with musicians from any kind of background," says Rudolph. "Much of what's happening with music now, especially improvised music, is a result of his efforts."
In 1979, Rudolph dropped by Los Angeles to visit his mentor and collaborator Charles Moore, a trumpeter he'd met at Oberlin, and stayed - at least when he wasn't touring in Europe, Japan, South America or the Middle East.
"L.A. is one of the most difficult places to present your music," he says, "hut it's a nice place to raise my daughter , and I like being away from the trendiness of the New York SCt scene There's so much space to find your own voice and direction here, and over the years I've encountered so many world-class fantastic musicians.
Rudolph's main L.A. outlet this decade has been his Moving Pictures band, a fascinating blend of rhythm, improvisation , sonic experiment and foreign flavors featuring saxist Jones, multi-instrtumentalist Jihad Racy and harpist Susan Allen; Oguri is also a regular partner in the concert performances of the group, which will soon issue its third release, the live Twelve Arrows. The album takes a daring leap into a mode of performance unfamiliar to most Western ears, wherein inter-instrumental relationships develop slowly, naturally, with plenty of space.
"In my first week in Ghana," says Rudolph, "I went to a ceremony where it started in a very of offhand manner, with everyone talking and sort of tapping on the drums, and next thing you know, these spirits are coming down and entering people. Or Gnawa healing ceremonies - they start at sunset and go till about 1 o'clock the next day. When you're there the whole time, you can move through the transformation of it. On Java, the puppet shows go on for hours and hours. I want to explore that."
One of Rudolph's more ambitious stretches has been The Dreamer, produced in 1995 for his own Meta Records label (www.metarecords.com). Based on narrated texts from Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and accompanied d by the highly defined, resonant paintings of Rudolph's wife, Nancy Jackson, this surreal, ever-shifting opera is performed by a chamber orchestra featuring such L.A. improvimental luminaries as guitarist G.E. Stinson (himself a former Hyde Park resident) and violinist Jeff Gauthier Watch for a reprise staging, which will probably again include Oguri in the title role.
Right now, Rudolph is busy as always, encouraged to find ever more receptive listeners and some shelter from the prevailing glare. "Hollywood is like these huge fluorescent lights," he says. "Our kind of thing is like candlelight. But other than the sun, a candle is the most beautiful light."
* * *
There's one figure it would be hard to omit from any discussion of Adam Rudolph: Yusef Lateef, friend and associate for 12 years. "Yusef has been the greatest inspiration, musically and personally, in my life," Rudolph says simply, and the man's example shows why.
Beginning as an admirer of Charlie Parker in the '40s, Lateef declared he wouldn't repeat himself, and hasn't. Acknowledged by John Coltrane for pioneering introductions of Eastern elements into jazz, he was a renowned saxist, flutist what-have-you-ist, composer end pathfinder before lowering his American profile in the '80s by devoting four years to teaching in Nigeria. As the 78-year-old continues to fertilize future generations through his professorship at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst his works, though largely unknown among mainstream jazz listeners, have reached new levels of power and scope, lately even displaying a mastery of electronic invention. And Rudolph has been his strongest bulwark, lending his arsenal of instruments and his musical direction to numerous tours, as well as such discs as the orchestral The African American Epic Suite (ACT/WDR), the 12-musician The World at Peace (recorded for Meta Records at L.A.'s Jazz Bakery}, and the moody, sinuous flute-guitar-percussion statement Like the Dust (the last two available from Lateef's YAL Records' P.O. Box 799, Amherst MA
by Greg Burk, LA Weekly, Feb. 19, 1999
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