Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Dave Rudolph Quintet's Resonance

We're back to discussing drummers as leaders and how they infuse so much excitement into their arrangements. I don't know if this will be an ongoing theme like it was last year since I'm already seeing several new trends in contemporary jazz, but I stand by my thesis that drummers make great leaders because they're not as distracted by being out front with their backs turned to their ensembles. Maybe that's the key. Dave Rudolph is a Tampa-based drummer, and Resonance is his debut as leader. He was inspired by the passing of a close friend to tackle this project, and you can tell that a lot of heart has gone into this set.

This is a gentle album, surprisingly so from a drummer-leader. Rudolph's original compositions do have that drive that I talk about with such ensembles--he is a busy leader and his percussion has a vitality to it that raises the energy levels within the calm. (His kick drum work is especially subtle and satisfying.) It is a surprise, however, that so many of the lasting impressions come from guitarist LaRue Nickelson. His guitar tone will instantly remind you of Metheny and Frisell, that Midwestern dryness and openness that I often mention when bringing those two up. It's so distinct in the mix that I wasn't even surprised when the two were mentioned as "being felt in spots" in the press release.

That shouldn't suggest that Rudolph is languishing at the rear of the stage. He's assembled a quintet of dynamic musicians that also include tenor sax player Zach Bornheimer, pianist Pablo Arenciba and bassist Alejandro Arenas. But it's interesting to use terms such as "dynamic" and "calm" to describe the same musical compositions. These nine tracks offer different levels of excitement, but the engagement is consistent--there's a certain restraint surrounding this quintet even though all the boxes (dizzying solos, a keen sense of history) are checked.

Perhaps that dichotomy can be expressed by Rudolph's frame of mind throughout the recording. He's hurt by the loss of a friend, but the show must go on. There's a braveness to this music, an unusual focus by all five, but there's also a peacefulness that floats above, one that comes from savoring good memories. When the bridge between the two modes appear, it's found in Rudolph's drumming. That's why the whole drummer-as-leader dynamic is so fascinating for me. There's always a puzzle to solve, something that creates an additional level of enjoyment.

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