By: Trevor Pour
Equal parts Robert Walter and Trent Reznor, the self-titled debut of NYC-based Rudder admittedly has me scratching my head after a half dozen spins. The acoustic onslaught of this aggressive jazz troupe doesn't fit neatly into any established genre, yet their allure lies in that eccentricity. On Rudder's premiere release, four former background instrumentalists aim to rise to the forefront of the scene, and critics are taking notice for good reason.
The diverse talent is evident with a mere glance at their resumes: Chris Cheek (tenor/baritone sax) has recently played with Bill Frisell; Henry Hey (keys) has toured extensively with Jeff Watts (Wynton and Branford Marsalis) and Rod Stewart; Tim Lefebvre (bass) is a regular player in the SNL house band; and Keith Carlock (drums) has spent considerable time with the Blues Brothers Band, Steely Dan and Sting to name a few. This may be a debut disc, but we're not dealing with amateurs, not by a long shot.
As for the music itself, the album reminds me of Copperopolis-styled Charlie Hunter, at least on "Stablemaster" and "Sk8." But the beauty of Rudder is the lack of a singular style. For example, "Floater" starts off sounding like the eerie, discordant brainchild of Les Claypool and ends up somewhere in the realm of a '70s game show. And somewhere within that track is a seven-minute transition as clean and polished as anything you'll ever hear. The industrial rocking "Juray" could easily find a home on an early Nine Inch Nails release, and "Sad Clown" might be mistaken for a Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey composition, where both soul-funk and jam rock make brief yet distinct appearances.
The discordance in style from track to track leads to a distinct lack of cohesion on the album, and while it doesn't keep me from recommending the record it is does warrant mention. It certainly contributes to Rudder's unique character. This isn't necessarily groundbreaking music. They aren't really doing anything that hasn't been done before. They are, however, putting together so many elements of jazz, funk and rock in a way that I can't recall another recent band doing with equal aplomb and success. This is a quality hour of music that never feels labored or forced. Fans of hard-driving, aggressive, exploratory jazz will eat Rudder up.
JamBase | Big Apple
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