Live is an intimate collaboration between legendary jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd and formidable guitarist Duck Baker. Recorded in two parts nearly two decades ago, Dot Time Records is proud to bring this meeting of musical minds to light for the first time on record. Captured here are two masters at work, each drawing from their own respective pots of experience. Some of it is shared; both Baker and Rudd have ties to traditional music and traditional jazz. Baker, one of the most highly regarded fingerstyle guitarists of his generation, pulls from his varied experiences in blues and folk music, while Rudd’s free-wheeling improvisation showcases unparalleled avant mastery. This collection of eight trombone-guitar duets is an exhilarating ride.
I got to know Roswell Rudd’s music as a teenager in the mid-1960s. He was on the very first free jazz record I ever heard, Archie Shepp’s Four For Trane, and shared front line duties on the incredible New York Art Quartet LP on ESP-Disk’. I followed his recording career as closely as I could from then on, sporadic though it was at times. I got to know him personally when I reached out to him for guidance regarding the compositions of Herbie Nichols, while working out ways to arrange the music for guitar in the mid-1990s. I was nervous about calling one the heroes of my youth for help, but Roswell demonstrated endless patience and the willingness to answer countless questions about Nichols, the musician and the man. We finally met in person in 1999, when Roswell came to San Francisco in a quartet with tenor man Rob Scheps, his first visit since Archie Shepp’s legendary run at the Both/And 33 years earlier. Of course I was thrilled when he invited me to visit him and his partner Verna Gillis in New York with the idea of playing music together.
The trombone – guitar combination is naturally a tricky one, but Roswell always regarded any possible difficulty as a challenge. It took a few rehearsals to figure out what we wanted to focus on, apart from some of the music of Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk. The fact that my experience included traditional jazz gave us one starting point, since Roswell had always been involved with that style, and he saw my folk/blues background as another thing to draw on. People sometimes forget that Roswell’s interest in all kinds of traditional music was a longstanding thing. He worked for many years with folklorist Alan Lomax, and authored a brilliant article for Downbeat about what we now call world music, back in the 1960s. So we tried to draw on as many things as we could, and ultimately Roswell decided to focus on a kind of collective improvisation that involved quotations from songs that shared a theme. We might incorporate actual arrangements, but most of the references were short quotations. It turned out that Roswell had made such free associating part of his practice routine for years but it was a new idea to me, and it was only when I grasped that it was fine to let the quotes emerge during a freely improvised dialog that I began to be comfortable with the process. Even when I wrote down a bunch of tune titles to quote and put that on a music stand, it was hard to try and pick something out while also listening to what Ros was doing and trying to maintain an overall flow. Ultimately what happens is similar to something that I experienced when performing some of John Zorn’s game pieces in the late 1970s; the conscious mind is so engaged with negotiating the rules that more of the overall direction is taken over by the unconscious, and you often wind up playing things far removed from your normal vocabulary. The whole process was enormously challenging and exhilarating. I still remember how surprised I was when Roswell told the audience after we played one of our collage pieces that I was the only person who could do this with him. My reaction was
“I can do this?”I’m still not sure about that, but I was one of many, many younger players who gained invaluable insights working with this great musical spirit. He connected us not only to the beginnings of free jazz but also, though the musicians he had known and worked with himself, to the beginnings of jazz.
– Duck Baker