Adam Rudolph and Go: Organic Orchestra Play CD Release Show at Roulette Tonight
A walled city, a map of the world, a spiraling call: a mandala's meaning extends far beyond pattern and line. It does more than represent an ideal or suggest a path. It is reality, laid out in its true form, for us to contemplate.
Composer and percussionist Adam Rudolph finds a similar shape of things via sound, enlisting the Go: Organic Orchestra, an ensemble of players who can be assembled anywhere, anytime. In the project's latest iteration, Rudolph has gathered his longest collaborating group of musicians based in New York, for a series of elegant, diversely textured pieces that form a Sonic Mandala (Meta Records; release: September 17, 2013). Following a compositional and conducting approach Rudolph has honed over decades of contemplation, performance, and creation, the group delineates a space where contemporary classical, jazz, and global traditions effortlessly converge.
Though Rudolph provides matrix-based scores and a streamlined vocabulary of conducting gestures to guide musicians, ultimately the pieces spring from the intent focus and spontaneous dialogue engendered in the musicians themselves. "The beauty lies in the ambiguity, the openness," reflects Rudolph. "There's something about playing into the center of the expressive quality of the music, something really intuitive that the musicians bring to it, as they focus on it. It's about being in tune, being completely in the present. You don't think about your musical gesture ahead of time, but serve the moment."
When hearing and making music, Rudolph perceives the forest, not the trees. His grounding in several jazz lineages, African drumming, North Indiantabla, and Western classical composition has led not to some elision or fusion, but to a vision of unity that lies at the foundation of how Rudolph crafts sound to fit human expression.
"What became interesting to me, the more I worked with my mentors, wasn't just how they played, or what instruments they played, or the sounds they made, but how they approached what they did," recalls Rudolph. "I was most interested in what their relationship was to music itself, the context and musical elements that were universal." This is no pat observation, no offhand notion of music as a universal language. Rudolph has strived to distill and then impart these elements, finding resonances and geometries over decades of intense engagement with a wide range of sounds and lineages.
Rudolph grew up in Chicago, surrounded by the burst of jazz energy that centered on groups like the Art Ensemble (some of its members taught music workshops at Rudolph's school). He encountered hand drumming thanks to the African percussion enthusiasts who used to gather at a park near Lake Michigan, and began drumming himself, in addition to playing piano. He dove into music, gaining experience under the mentorship of Chicago's Fred Anderson and Malauwi Nururdin, and Detroit's jazz stalwart, trumpeter Charles Moore of the CJQ.
Tracing jazz's structures back to one of their vital sources, Rudolph drove a cab in Chicago after completing his studies at Oberlin, saved his money, and wound up in the late 1970s in Ghana. As he learned from musicians there, he gained an intuitive sense of common underlying forms and structures, cycles and relationships that migrated into his own artistic work. "You have to look at the universal elements and connective tissues that can resonate in your own creativity, even while you feel how deeply the music is connected to the cosmology of how people live," notes Rudolph.
Traditions became respected structures, not generic strictures, as Rudolph studied with master players like Pandit Rao Taranath (one of Ravi Shankar's go-to tabla players) and co-founded cross-cultural projects (the Mandingo Griot Society, with griot Foday Musa Suso for starters, and recording with Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun for another), decades ahead of the current fascination with African and American musical dialogues.
As a hand drummer, Rudolph has been guided by rhythm as a meaningful unifying force flowing through the world's music. "One of the things I discovered through performance and study over the years is that many rhythmic traditions are organized around a timeline, what the Cubans call clave, for example," Rudolph says. "If you understand how that works mathematically and philosophically, you can start to design timelines for yourself." Rudolph feels this should happen within an artist's own tradition or lineage, and Rudolph's spans blues, jazz, and contemporary classical.