In a remarkable example of uncanny group-think, pianist-keyboardist and RareNoise regular Jamie Saft (Metallic Taste of Blood, Slobber Pup, Plymouth, The New Standard, Red Hill) joins with longtime collaborators Trevor Dunn on bass and Balazs Pandi on drums and master trombonist Roswell Rudd on the astounding, purely improvised Strength and Power. Recorded live in Saft's home studio near Woodstock, New York, this intergenerational offering features the 44-year-old pianist, 47-year-old bassist, 32-year-old Hungarian drummer and 80-year-old avant-garde pioneer blending organically, telepathically on a set of conversational music running the gamut of dynamics and emotions.
As Saft explains, "All the music was completely improvised in the studio. No predetermined compositions at all. No hand signals, no charts: nothing but trust, deepest intuition, and mutual respect."
The key to this highly interactive session, says Rudd, was not chops but rather the participants' highly attuned listening skills. "The really important thing, especially with collective improvisation, is that you're playing off of each other. So the music comes as a result of listening to each other and your response to the other players. I really found myself delving deeply on this occasion because the other musicians were
not only putting it out there but they were also responding in depth. When you're lucky enough to be in the company of very proficient musicians who not only can play but also can listen deeply, this is what I think I love more than anything else in the performance of music."
The revered trombonist, who came up playing Dixieland or trad jazz music while attending Yale University in the mid 1950s and later made his mark in the free jazz world through collaborations with Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, John Tchicai and longtime collaborator Steve Lacy, is a formidable presence on this RareNoise recording. Whether it's his lyrical playing on the spacious ballad "Luminescent," his unrestrained blowing on a surging "The Bedroom," his conversational plunger work on "Cobalt Is a Divine" and the title track or his early New Orleans tailgate-styled testifying on "Struttin' for Jah Jah," Rudd's trombone resounds with history, humor and humanity. Dunn provides thick grooves and potent contrapuntal lines throughout (particularly when he is paired in a duet with Rudd on "Dunn's Falls") while Pandi propels the proceedings with kinetic backbeats and swinging momentum. Saft, performing on his 1966 Steinway Model L piano at his home studio, adds spiky comping, cascading call-and-response lines and some exploration inside the piano. "This piano has a unique sound," he says. "It's darker than most modern pianos. Sometimes I will use paper and pen if they are handy as tools to modify the acoustic piano, but mostly it's just real time manipulation of the inside of the piano with these two hands."
"The piano is a strange and opulent instrument," adds Saft. "It is a physical object which requires adherence to the basic laws of physics. The greatest pianists understand how to harness the power of gravity and understand the internal mechanisms of the instrument and how they relate to the laws of gravity. I always work to use gravity to my advantage as an instrumentalist. With proper understanding of the way the piano and the human body interact, one can constantly push the instrument into new areas while retaining a deep and rich tone. Whether I'm seated at the piano or working inside the piano, I'm still always dealing with laws of physics. The idea is to let gravity do all the work for you. This gives a deep and crisp tone and maximum technical flexibility."
Saft explains that this collaboration with Rudd was partly born out of proximity. "Roswell and I live five miles or so from each other in Kerhonkson, New York. Roswell and Verna Gillis, his brilliant partner, have recorded a number of times at my studio Potterville International Sound. This is how we initially met. It was clear very quickly that we needed to make music together."
Rudd says that the Strength And Power session is a continuation of "the pursuit of mystery" that he has tirelessly been on throughout his entire career, from his days as a collegiate Dixielander to the present. "This river that runs through all of my performing and recording from the earliest times, it's essentially what we did over at Jamie's that day. It's a special recording and I look forward to getting back together with the musicians, Balazs, Trevor and Jamie, and doing more, taking it out and playing for audiences somewhere. I'd love to play it for a bunch of people with thirsty ears."
Adds Saft, who has also racked up numerous credits on various John Zorn projects over the years, "It's a great privilege to make music with a true legend of improvised music such as Roswell. His compositions are deep and vast, his sound is unmistakably brilliant, and most of all he's a truly beautiful human being. The last point is crucial here: when one improvises with such a beautiful person all is possible. Roswell constantly strives to impart his love of sounds to humanity. His positivity and shining vibe make this clear, obvious, and essential."
1. Strength & Power
2. Cobalt is a Divine
3. The Bedroom
5. Dunn's Falls
6. Struttin' For Jah Jah