Adam Rudolph Go Organic Guitar Orchestra

Turning Towards the Light
Cuneiform Records RUNE 406

By Ken Waxman

New York guitarist Adam Rudolph’s conducting Toronto players in a group improvisation earlier this year at the Music Gallery was fascinating. But it was also like reading one well-crafted chapter in a serialized novel. That’s because the peripatetic Rudolph has directed similar large groups for the past few years, melding non-western rhythms with Euro-American instrumental techniques. Turning towards the Light is the most recent recorded example, but rather then parcelling out parts among vocalist and instrumentalists as in Toronto, the CD showcases 13 instances of intermingling string strategies from six electric guitarists, one acoustic guitarist, a bass guitarist as well as three pickers who individually switch between electric bass and lap steel guitar; electric and national steel guitars; and electric guitar and banjo.

Rather than resembling a free-for-all at a string-players convention, sonic strategies unite each performance. Like an architect combining many styles to design distinctive building, Rudolph’s musical configurations can be jarring as well, as soothing. But as opposed to some builders who attempt to shoehorn period details onto a contemporary structure, complementary texture are instead sought out and used judiciously, as microtones and for maximum effect. On “Lambent” for instance, the overlapping of thick surf music-like electric bass runs and the tang of steel-guitar licks creates a feeling of both freedom and formalism. Specular finds two guitarists hashing out hard blues licks over a rhythmic groove. Meanwhile the narrative of the title tune buffets ocean-liner-like on waves of so many buzzing flanges and door-stopper-like resonations that the interaction could reflect computer programming.

However the most indicative track is “Flame and Moth” which unlike its title transmogrifies caterpillar to butterfly within seven minutes. Initially sharply contrasting electric bass beats and meandering guitar locks, subsequent stacked string lines clang metronome-like to reach a crescendo of courtly gavotte-like passes, where all the pickers participate in sustained textural interchange.

Without stringing anyone along, Rudolph and his 11 associates demonstrate how in the right hands and plectrums, improvising guitars can produce a riveting, transformative program.

—For The Whole Note May 2016