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Before There Was World Music, There Was Adam Rudolph


Adam Rudolph conducts, photo by Noureddine El Warari

Before there was world music, there was Adam Rudolph. For almost four decades, Rudolph has been blurring the lines of jazz with strong rhythms, timbres, and spirits of African and other music forms. See him perform live with his Go: Organic Orchestra in Maplewood, NJ (9/28/13), Brooklyn, NY (10/3/13), Hartford, CT (10/11/13), and Venice, CA (10/26/13). More info here.

1. When were you first exposed to African music and music from other parts of the world? 

I began listening to African music recordings as a teenager and heard an amazing group from Ivory Coast perform in Chicago around then as well. I began serious study with Ladji Camara in 1975. Before that I had been learning drumming from Uganda, Cuba, and Haiti. 

2. You went to Africa very early on. What was that experience like? 

I lived in Ghana for about a year in 1977. I also traveled in Togo, Burkina Faso, and Mali including up to the Dogon. Living there had the most profound impact on my music direction and consciousness. I experienced the connection between the social and collective spiritual life of a culture to the music that springs from it. I experienced how music can come from something beyond music and can be about something beyond music. Music is a vehicle. I also experienced the great depth and diversity of the music culture there...more than one could ever learn. I began to see it is essential for the creative artist to look deeply into the elements that inform the music beyond the stylistic differences. 

My first week there I attended a trance ceremony that used drumming singing and dance to lift everyone into transcendence. It changed my life and I went back twice a week while I lived there. I also experienced the amazing hospitality and humanity of African culture first hand.

3. When you meet someone for the first time, how do you describe your music?

It is always difficult, as I dislike categories. Sometimes I say orchestral improvised world music, whatever that means.

GO_Adam2_JudiKomala4. Who were some of your music inspirations? 

Don Cherry and The Art Ensemble of Chicago. I ended up working with Don starting in 1978 when he took me on my first European tour and got me started composing. I listened to all his recordings before I ever met him. He was the prototypical world music traveler starting in the 1960s. He touched and inspired so many musicians. What I got from him is how to contribute to the lifting of the music moment while still maintaining your own voice in the music. I grew up around the AACM on the South Side of Chicago. They were all my neighbors. The Art Ensemble was the first group I heard live who could generate and hold magic in the room. I have had a close relationship, personally and musically, with Yusef Lateef since 1988. As he nears his 93rd year, he continues to inspire me. This music -- so called "jazz" -- is, in its essence, an oral tradition. The elder musicians share with the younger. I have been so very fortunate to have had these great mentors. What they teach you cannot be put on paper. It has to do with creative attitudes and the mysticism of music.

5. Fusing two or more different types of music forms or traditions is a mine field. Somehow you have always stepped around the mines. What do you think determines the difference between successful hybrids and failed ones?

I can only speak for my process. Deep and serious long-term study and an open mind and heart are essential. "World music " can be more than just putting some folks from different lands on stage together or adding an "ethnic" instrument into the mix. What I have learned from my many, many collaborations, from musicians like Foday Musa Suso, Hassan Hakmoun, and L. Shankar, is that what is amazing is "how" they think about music itself. Not only the concept of the music but the way they hear and relate to music making. This leads into understanding of the elements -- rhythm, melody, motion, color -- and then, ultimately, the unison of vibration. Deep understanding is like "eating" the music; finally, it becomes part of your cellular structure; your creative consciousness. Beyond this, even lies the humanity that inspires the music; the universal human condition and the many stories it generates.

6. One obstacle in particular is what happens when some people of European descent start playing with music from African diaspora traditions. What causes the problem in these situations and how have you sidestepped it?

I never thought of it that way, that it is a a problem. I grew up in a multi-racial neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. So music that was around was what I heard live growing up Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, they all lived nearby. I lived downstairs from Johnny Griffin the first years of my life. The essential philosophy and tradition of African-American improvisational music (aka"jazz") is to sound like yourself. Play your aboriginalness. Further, Don Cherry said "jazz is the glue." As one of the greatest and newest syncretic music forms on the planet, the "jazz" creative attitude invites the performer to grow; what i call being an evolutionist. For the last 35 years, I can say that my musical peers and associates come from all over the planet and we know how to make music together. This is done by listening, cultivating imagination, and sharing. 

7. Your Go: Organic Orchestra has a beautiful new album. What are you most excited about the recording?

I think there are 7 or 8 releases of Go: Organic Orchestra from my ensembles in New York, Naples, and Los Angeles. But this is the first studio recording that captures the sound of the group. It was recorded and mixed at Bill Laswell's studio by the master engineer who does all of Bill's work, James Dallatacoma. We took our time in the mix. Also it is the first LP release of the group. It was made after six years of doing an extended concerts series in NYC, so the music has had time to develop and evolve. Most of the musicians on the recording have been with me for six years, and you can hear the sense of community between the musicians. They are playing towards the center of feeling of music; their virtuosity serves the expression of the whole. That's what's beautiful. 

8. Where do you see global music going in America in the coming years?

Creative artists are always interested in learning and growing. We will continue to share and experiment with one another. The idea is to maintain the essence of who you are as an artist while also expanding and learning.

9. You have concerts in Brooklyn and L.A. coming up in October. What can people expect when they come to those shows?

Listening to the music of Go: Organic Orchestra in concert is an invitation for the audience to actively participate in the creative moment. No one knows what will happen next. It is like a physical ride traveling towards an ever shifting horizon. Put another way: we bring the idea of "Yoga" to the music -- body, mind, spirit. Body -- the music is grooving strong with four to six percussionists. Mind -- the combination of sounds and orchestrations are always prototypical and fascinating. Spirit -- our intention is to speak (play) with deep feeling,  from the heart.

Read more about Adam Rudolph's Go: Organic Orchestra and listen to excerpts of their new recording "Sonic Mandala" here on the rock paper scissors website.