The word magic comes up time and again when speaking of The Unknowable. Both Dave Liebman and Adam Rudolph use the term when describing their "beautiful alchemy" that also included Tatsuya Nakatani, all three acclaimed artists working as one for this project. Nakatani may not have been using the word "magic" when he refers to this trio's unique chemistry; but when he speaks of "living life with sound spirit world," I infer that he's pointing to the same "voodoo of spontaneous high level musical communication" Liebman so aptly describes.
That "beautiful alchemy" Rudolph talks of could only have come about in light of previous separate and shared musical experiences between all three. Essentially drummers, Rudolph and Nakatani, and Liebman the all-around reed player, have traveled their respective "spaceways" with just a few overlaps. But, to back it up even further, as Rudolph states, "In one way, your entire life as a human being and as an artist is the prep[aration]. That is, you have to come to a creative situation like this with open ears, an open heart, and free-flowing imagination. The preparation is also years and years of practice, composing and performance so that we can be free to play anything we can imagine to play."
The genesis of this threesome coming together seemed to be a quite natural one. "I invited Dave to play duo with me at the Stone [on New York's Lower East Side] during my residency there in May, 2016," says Rudolph. "He agreed, and it was magic. He has always dug drummers and he knows how to listen and dialogue with the drums." Liebman concurs, stating separately, "I love drummers!" As for Nakatani, Rudolph recalls, "Tatsuya and I had played several trio concerts together with Kaoru Watanabe [who plays in Rudolph's Go: Organic Orchestra] several years ago. We had a wonderful connection and also really complemented each other by our unique approaches. He is a fantastic musician; there is no one who sounds quite like him. As for Dave with Tatsuya," he continues, "they performed together in the summer of 2016, and Dave loved playing with him. So when we talked about recording, Dave had the idea - which I loved - for the three of us to record together."
"A totally improvised program," as Liebman refers to it, might have one wondering how it all came together, and how much conversation preceded each piece. "It was intuition," says Rudolph. "Each of us had ideas about how to approach every composition. That is, we all understood how to improvise form, which not all musicians can do, even those who improvise inside of form. I call what we did spontaneous composition," a term Rudolph prefers rather than calling it "improvisation." According to Liebman, "This was a completely spontaneous happening, with instruments chosen on the spot, with, of course, a nod to variety, with the usual suspects that make music meaningful." Similarly, there was the question of what to call each piece; all of the music, while consistently divergent from track to track, still shared magically abstract qualities. "I came up with the titles as I listened to the mixes," Rudolph remembers. "Everyone liked what I came up with, as the titles were not too literal. In a way, this music doesn't even need titles. It exists on its own terms. What's thrilling for me is that the music sounds prototypical, like itself."
The Unknowable, made up of 13 completely improvised, group-composed pieces and available in both CD and double-LP configurations, provides distinct expressions from track to track, most of the selections ranging from between three and four minutes, the longest, the heliocentric, serene "Cosmogram," clocking in at just under five. How the three of them landed in Orange Music Sound Studio in New Jersey for a day recording in December 2016 can only be (hopefully) understood by brief backward glances of each artist that preceded their "fated" music meeting. In the end, though, we must be content with that "unknowable" element that courses through life and is certainly at the heart of this music.
At home as both a solo performing artist as well as collaborator, the Osaka-born Nakatani has made a name for himself as a world-touring artist. Having been a resident of the U.S. since the mid-1990s, Nakatani has been prolific, having recorded over 80 albums, but has also distinguished himself as an educator and instrument maker. His master classes and workshops at colleges and universities point to his ease with students as he goes from being a performer to one who's desire to share and instruct others becomes obvious. In addition, and not independent of his status as a teacher, Nakatani has invented his own instruments as a means of demonstrating his own developed techniques as a player of experimental music, a music that touches on elements of free-jazz, noise as well as traditional Japanese folk music. Certain of those instruments (some heard on The Unknowable) include conventional percussion given new formations such as gongs, wooden sticks, singing bowls and cymbals, as well as various handcrafted mallets, bows and metal objects. Nakatani is also heard playing the conventional drumset on The Unknowable.
While he's been known to collaborate in intimate settings, saxophonist Dave Liebman is perhaps best known for his own work as a bandleader of both small groups as well as big bands. His sound on both soprano and tenor saxophones but also flute (all three present on The Unknowable) has become almost like a trademark of jazz saxophone over the past 50 years. Hiis initial claims to fame came from working with Miles Davis and Elvin Jones but more importantly by leading his own groups with, among many others, John Scofield, Richie Beirach, Billy Hart and Terumasa Hino. An award-winning artist, Liebman has, like Nakatani, also maintained a substantial career as a music educator. A tireless musician who never seems to stop, a recent recording as of this date includes yet another example of Liebman's love of collaborating on an intimate scale, this time with fellow legendary artist and friend, French pianist Martial Solal. The CD, the aptly titled Masters In Bordeaux, finds them visiting the Great American Songbook playing six standards with much tenderness and verve.
Adam Rudolph's various journeys all started with an impassioned dedication to drums, drumming and, especially, percussion. Like Liebman, Rudolph has made a name for himself leading aggregates large and small, presenting his unique brand of improvised conducting as well as forming a recognizable sound on various instruments as an instrumentalist: kongos, djembe, thumb piano, sintir, among many, many others. Add to this arsenal overtone flutes, some nifty Fender Rhodes along with some live electronic processing (all heard on The Unknowable) and you are listening to an artist who has become a master at multiple levels of instrumentation. Referring to just two of the more notable groups Rudolph has formed over the years, his 30-plus-member Go: Organic Orchestra and Moving Pictures octet, each seems to reflect important, different sides to his musical personality, the former a great illustration of his love of conducting and working with a variety of artists and instruments. Indeed, there's deep curiosity with world culture with Go, but also with his first love as a player and improviser within a small group setting, beautifully expressed through Moving Pictures. Rudolph's most noteworthy small-group collaboration was the long-term one he had with the late multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, an artist/mentor whose spirit no doubt permeates the vibe heard on The Unknowable.
Coming from three different generations, the music all three players perform on The Unknowable can likened to "living with sound," as Nakatani states. Nakatani is talking about three "artists of life with sound," another apt description and summation of each brief bio given above. It is a music that, at its best, seems to exist in the natural world, alongside and in our lives as naturally as the air we breathe, the feel of our footsteps as we walk down streets or touch the earth in an open field at under a moon-lit sky. A piece such as "Late Moon" breathes, is sonically porous, mysterious, the wooden flute and percussive punctuations presenting a relaxed, pulseless feel. The music seems to meander but with some organizing principle that can only come from three musicians capable of "deep listening." We are invited in, to join as fellow listeners to some of that "magic."
There are other such openings on The Unknowable, "Skyway Dream" another similarly created piece, this time with Liebman on flute, the percussion now coursing through Liebman's fluid lines like a slow-moving stream. The rare presence of a pulse somehow comforts and is in-synch with a music that seems to be going nowhere in particular, "the going," in essence, the destination, with no sense of urgency.
By way of contrast, there are the more fervid selections, some of them playful, such as the title track, others a bit more frantic, somewhat scattershot, like "Transmutations," a piece that seems to invite listener participation, what with its back and forth ways of opening and closing, this all-percussion number essentially saying anything with hands-reach can be added to the sound already rolling out of your speakers. Technique, proficiency and style are irrelevant. Only honest, direct expression matters. Incidentally, and to keep things intimate beyond the studio, the sound quality produced by all three members (with more than able assistance from engineer/longtime Bill Laswell/Rudolph collaborator James Dellatacoma) is excellent: you feel as if, when closing your eyes, you could be there in the same room with them.
By way of yet another contrast, "Iconographic" is reminiscent of another intimate collaboration put down many years ago: 1973's Ruta and Daitya, an exceptional (and rare) recording. The music, with Keith Jarrett playing electric piano alongside Jack DeJohnette on percussion, seems to offer an historic precedent to certain musings heard on The Unknowable. The contrast within The Unknowable comes in the form of divergent sonics, and similar to "Cosmogram" (where Rudolph is heard playing Fender Rhodes), this time it's Liebman on Fender Rhodes (and playing chords) while the percussion team is busy dancing and prancing. The open-ended fun of "Iconographic" sets the stage for the remaining three selections, which also include forceful tenor work from Liebman and yet more organized percussive scrambling.
The Unknowable fittingly begins and ends with two pieces called "Benediction." They serve as sonic tapestries that welcome and bid farewell. They suggest more open sky, with complementary sounds that, in their respective serenities, allude not just to sky but to the sky beyond the sky, into the cosmos. Like the cosmos, this music has no north, south, east or west, combining as it does what Nakatami refers to as a music "beyond nationality, generation, style, personality, education."
1. Benediction (Opening) 4:14
2. The Simple Truth 3:47
3. Late Moon 3:41
4. The Unknowable 3:25
5. Skyway Dream 4:24
6. Transmutations 4:34
7. The Turning 3:39
8. Present Time 3:25
9. Distant Twilight 2:57
10. Iconographic 2:05
11. Cosmogram 4:44
12. Premonition 4:08
13. Benediction (Closing) 3:48
Recorded July 2016 at Orange Music Sound Studio, New Jersey
Recorded, mixed and mastered by James Dellatacoma
Published by RareNoisePublishing (PRS)
Design by Sylvain Leroux
Artwork by Adam Rudolph
Produced by Adam Rudolph, Dave Liebman, Tatsuya Nakatani
Executive Producer for RareNoiseRecords: Giacomo Bruzzo
Special thanks to Bill Laswell
Special thanks to Bill Laswell