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Sample Track 1:
"Part Twelve" from Sonic Mandala
Sample Track 2:
"Part Two" from Sonic Mandala
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Go: Organic Orchestra, Sonic Mandala (Meta Records) Contemplative Timelines: Adam Rudolph and Go: Organic Orchestra Find the Dynamic, Beautiful Center of Globally Informed, Improvisationally Generated Sound

A walled city, a map of the world, a spiraling call: a mandala’s meaning extends far beyond pattern and line. It does more than represent an ideal or suggest a path. It is reality, laid out in its true form, for us to contemplate.

Composer and percussionist Adam Rudolph finds a similar shape of things via sound, enlisting the Go: Organic Orchestra, an ensemble of players who can be assembled anywhere, anytime. In the project’s latest iteration, Rudolph has gathered his longest collaborating group of musicians based in New York, for a series of elegant, diversely textured pieces that form a Sonic Mandala (Meta Records; release: September 17, 2013). Following a compositional and conducting approach Rudolph has honed over decades of contemplation, performance, and creation, the group delineates a space where contemporary classical, jazz, and global traditions effortlessly converge.

Though Rudolph provides matrix-based scores and a streamlined vocabulary of conducting gestures to guide musicians, ultimately the pieces spring from the intent focus and spontaneous dialogue engendered in the musicians themselves. “The beauty lies in the ambiguity, the openness,” reflects Rudolph. “There’s something about playing into the center of the expressive quality of the music, something really intuitive that the musicians bring to it, as they focus on it. It’s about being in tune, being completely in the present. You don’t think about your musical gesture ahead of time, but serve the moment.”

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When hearing and making music, Rudolph perceives the forest, not the trees. His grounding in several jazz lineages, African drumming, North Indian tabla, and Western classical composition has led not to some elision or fusion, but to a vision of unity that lies at the foundation of how Rudolph crafts sound to fit human expression.

“What became interesting to me, the more I worked with my mentors, wasn’t just how they played, or what instruments they played, or the sounds they made, but how they approached what they did,” recalls Rudolph. “I was most interested in what their relationship was to music itself, the context and musical elements that were universal.” This is no pat observation, no offhand notion of music as a universal language. Rudolph has strived to distill and then impart these elements, finding resonances and geometries over decades of intense engagement with a wide range of sounds and lineages.

Rudolph grew up in Chicago, surrounded by the burst of jazz energy that centered on groups like the Art Ensemble (some of its members taught music workshops at Rudolph’s school). He encountered hand drumming thanks to the African percussion enthusiasts who used to gather at a park near Lake Michigan, and began drumming himself, in addition to playing piano. He dove into music, gaining experience under the mentorship of Chicago’s Fred Anderson and Malauwi Nururdin, and Detroit’s jazz stalwart, trumpeter Charles Moore of the CJQ.

Tracing jazz’s structures back to one of their vital sources, Rudolph drove a cab in Chicago after completing his studies at Oberlin, saved his money, and wound up in the late 1970s in Ghana. As he learned from musicians there, he gained an intuitive sense of common underlying forms and structures, cycles and relationships that migrated into his own artistic work. “You have to look at the universal elements and connective tissues that can resonate in your own creativity, even while you feel how deeply the music is connected to the cosmology of how people live,” notes Rudolph.

Traditions became respected structures, not generic strictures, as Rudolph studied with master players like Pandit Rao Taranath (one of Ravi Shankar’s go-to tabla players) and co-founded cross-cultural projects (the Mandingo Griot Society, with griot Foday Musa Suso for starters, and recording with Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun for another), decades ahead of the current fascination with African and American musical dialogues.

As a hand drummer, Rudolph has been guided by rhythm as a meaningful unifying force flowing through the world’s music. “One of the things I discovered through performance and study over the years is that many rhythmic traditions are organized around a timeline, what the Cubans call clave, for example,” Rudolph says. “If you understand how that works mathematically and philosophically, you can start to design timelines for yourself.” Rudolph feels this should happen within an artist’s own tradition or lineage, and Rudolph’s spans blues, jazz, and contemporary classical.

Learning from broad-minded, compositionally bold mentors and close friends like Don Cherry and Yusef Lateef, Rudolph evolved both the structural means and spiritual force that became the heart of his work. Rhythm can create patterns, can give even novices or hidebound musicians a new, more expansive place where they can engage with the deeper undercurrents of human experience and emotion. It is by enlivening and intertwining these patterns that Rudolph begins many of his pieces.

“I’ve always been interested in developing an orchestral palette, but with advanced rhythms,” Rudolph states, a development that has been unfolding since the early 20th century in Western classical, from Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring to composers like Ligeti (with his view of the pulse). At the same time, Rudolph felt he wanted to pass along his experience as a mentor and bring together the diverse musicians who wanted to play with him.

The solution was the Go: Organic Orchestra, more overarching organizational principle than stable ensemble. In his scores Rudolph creates interval matrices and cosmograms that form a basis for improvisation, which he conducts using a set of intuitive, clear hand motions. This allowed Rudolph to bring together compositional ideas, an infinite number of timbres, and a variety of skill levels and backgrounds under one, free-spirited aegis. “As I develop my own process, I’ve been looking for a way to have an orchestral approach to improvisation, where musicians can have their own breath and phraseology moving through the music.” It’s an approach that has caught on from Italy to Turkey, with ensembles sprouting up across Europe and the U.S.

Following six live recordings, Sonic Mandala is the first Go: Organic Orchestra studio session. The state of the art recording and mix were done at Bill Laswell’s studio and brought together Rudolph’s most frequent group of co-creators. 33 New York musicians played everything from the Malian hunter’s harp and bamboo trumpets to Fender Rhodes and the Japanese noh-kan flute, forming full-bodied woodwind, brass, and string sections and layer upon layer of intriguing world percussion. This prototypical ensemble has near equal numbers of men and women, spans three generations, and hails from Asia, North Africa, Europe, Central, South and North America. Coming from every possible musical background, a classical violinist or jazz flutist may sit next to and exchange ideas with oud players and bata drummers. “Whatever their background, what I look for in the musicians for the orchestra is open-mindedness and the desire to explore and develop and grow,” Rudolph notes.

The album these musicians created with Rudolph functions as a whole, not as tracks, often exploring and extrapolating longer expressions from a single moment and revealing Rudolph’s deep engagement with world traditions (such as the triptych “Part Seven,” whose increasing tempo is inspired by Indian performance structures). Moving between groove-driven sections to more organically structured passages, Sonic Mandala marks out a pathway in pulse, timbre, and form. Rudolph and his co-creators eschew bleak abstraction or overly intellectualized rigidity, unwinding colorful, lively, and joyful sound that feels as free as any improv set, but with satisfying peaks and valleys, crescendos and soothing patterns of lush comfort (“Part Twelve,” a forest of intertwining sound).

“The idea of a sonic mandala came to me because of the circularity I heard, felt and understood in many music cultures,” Rudolph remembers. “As pattern-based music orbits around and around it becomes a call. It’s a call to enter into the collective state of the moment. If you listen to Sly Stone and James Brown, or to the music of really ancient intact cultures like the Bayaka Pygmies or Javanese Gamelan, that’s what you hear. It goes around and around, and that’s the trance, that’s the collective dance.”

<< release: 09/17/13 >>