Trombone maestro visits Chicago with Lol Coxhill and ends up in a septet with a couple...
John Eyles 2003-01-24
Last year, Emanem released Trombolenium (1986-1995), an impressive series of snapshots of Paul Rutherford's improvised trombone solos. In the sleeve notes of that album, Emanem boss Martin Davidson welcomed Rutherford's recovery from his serious illness of 2001 and also said it might be time for a new solo record. Well, here it is. It records Rutherford's appearance at the Empty Bottle Festival in Chicago, in which he performed solo and in a septet. Even more than with his recent contribution to Amassed by Spring Heel Jack, it confirms that Rutherford is in fine fettle.
The solo track here, "Bottling Up", lasts for over half an hour. In that time, at his own pace, Rutherford demonstrates his strengths; a variety of tones (not least his beautiful, vulnerable, human tone), his use of the full range of his instrument, his lucid, flowing phrases, his focus, his energy. As Spring Heel Jack's Ashley Walessaid of Rutherford's solo playing recently, "He is playing beautiful notes, notes you recognise, sequences you recognise. Some of it sounds like Vaughan Williams".
Rutherford's sense of occasion and sense of humour also shine through as he quotes a phrase from "Strangers in the Night" (no, I didnt believe it either!) - maybe there was some essence of Sinatra in the Chicago air that night...
In the septet, Rutherford is joined by Chicagoans Jeb Bishop (trombone), Fred Lonberg Holm (cello and electronics) & Kent Kessler (double bass), Swedes Mats Gustafsson (tenor sax) and Kjell Nordeson (percussion), plus Britain's own Lol Coxhill (soprano sax) - remarkably, only on his second visit to the USA.
The first of three septet pieces, "Loliloquy", is a showcase for Coxhill. It slowly gathers momentum and has a melancholy air to it until an unaccompanied solo feature for Lol midway through. But it's the final three minutes of the piece that really kickstart the septet and set the pulses racing, as all seven players engage in a bout of full-tilt all-out blowing - the kind of stuff that gets people hooked on improvisation (or, yes, totally alienates others!)
On the other two septet pieces, "Blue Bottle" and "Bottle Out" (typical Emanem titles), Rutherford himself is more prominent, but the level of intensity and whole group interaction is consistently maintained. It may be unfair to single out particular players, but Gustafsson's raw, throaty tenor and Lonberg-Holm's use of electronics and distortion both grab the attention. Thrilling stuff.