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Towards the Unknown

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Album Review

While it’s true that percussion master and composer Adam Rudolph and octogenarian musical legend, multi-instrumentalist, teacher, and composer Yusef Lateef have worked together often — the latter was and remains a profound influence on the former — Toward the Unknown is easily the most cohesive work they’ve recorded together. Comprised of two pieces, one by each man dedicated to the other, it is a testament to friendship and the passing of a torch from one musician to another — though neither would admit it. Rudolph's Concerto for Brother Yusef begins with “First Train.” This brief first movement kicks off with Lateef’s moaning blues vocal, Rudolph's Go: Orchestra string ensemble, frame and bass drums. Combined, they offer the Delta blues as a mirror of Mother Africa. It immediately moves into the duet “Southside” with Lateef’s strong tenor saxophone playing as Rudolph percussively engages him, extending the blues motif. The strings enter on “Reflections.” The tenor is still there, sparingly moving through a skeletally constructed melody; it touches on textures as much as genres. It’s outside and inside simultaneously. Rudolph conducts the strings to follow by extending the harmonic palette. His own percussion is also minimal, even as the strings and Lateef converse contrapuntally. Lateef’s voice returns on the Concerto’s closer, “A Better Day,” speaking poetry this time, aimed at eliminating world starvation. The keyboards and bassline drums are haunting and atmospheric; as a work, it's a fitting tribute to both musician and man. Lateef’s Percussion Concerto for Adam Rudolph is comprised of two movements, the first nearly four times longer than the second. Beginning with an engaged percussion interlude on a hand-drum kit, bells, xylophone, gogs, and cymbals, it is answered by the SEM Orchestra conducted by Petr Kotik. Strings, reeds, woodwinds, brass, piano, and double bass interact languidly — at first — with Rudolph’s frenetic but always circular drumming. The piece moves across not only earthly worlds but spiritual ones, too. In fact, it is spiritual classical music that touches on various eras and world traditions. Rudolph lets his drums really speak; they show, rather than merely tell, what he’s learned. Compellingly, he’s continuing a cultural story begun by Dr. Lateef on his own recordings more than 50 years ago. Dynamics, textures, dissonances, and space are woven into an elemental, holistic construction by the composer; brought to bear in a life-affirming pulse as the final movement closes. This is ambitious, thoughtful music; it’s accessible to virtually any heart open to dialoguing with it. It is instructive, sophisticated, and earthy; a welcome addition to both men’s catalogs.

Biography

Born: October 9, 1920 in Chatanooga, TN

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Yusef Lateef long had an inquisitive spirit and he was never just a bop or hard bop soloist. Lateef, who did not care much for the term "jazz," consistently created music that stretched (and even broke through) boundaries. A superior tenor saxophonist with a soulful sound and impressive technique, by the 1950s Lateef was one of the top flutists around. He also developed into the best jazz soloist to date on oboe, was an occasional bassoonist, and introduced such instruments as the argol (a double...
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