Rosswell Rudd Quartet

Keep Your Heart Right

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Working with a vocalist is nothing new for veteran revered trombonist Roswell Rudd. If you recall the excellent 1973 album for the Arista/Freedom label Flexible Flyer, you recognize a revisit in the style of memorable tracks done at that time with the innovative singer Sheila Jordan. Rudd's idea on this CD is to mix up some old favorites, Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired stage-type songs, and his trademark modern jazz -- all as a vehicle for the introduction of the excellent songbird Sunny Kim. She is as impressive as any vocalist you might hear in contemporary music, as her bell-like vocal instrument, clean phrasing, and distinct, confident tone ring true from beginning to end. Kim is quite adept at scat, sings a good soulful or inward-looking lyric, and is one of the more pleasurable and accessible vocalists who is not afraid to take a risk or three. The CD opens with some advice or love songs: "Keep Your Heart Right" (recorded for the Flexible Flyer album but never released), originally written in tribute to a cattle stampede and summarily expressive with no holds barred by Kim; "Loved by Love," a low-key waltz with a hymnal feel; "I Look in the Mirror," a self-examination via pop-blues-swing; and "The Light Is with Me" (first appearing as sung by Jordan on the recording Broad Strokes), another ballad with a gospel sound. Things turn a bit kitschy and whimsical on "I'm Going Sane" (lyrics by Verna Gillis), a driving swinger that delightfully stalls into a molasses no-time bog, then escapes and speeds up. The fifth recorded version by Rudd of his slight reggae Afro-blues tune "Bamako" sports the first edition sung in English. Going back to the Flexible Flyer LP, Rudd and Kim sing the Native American chant dirge "Suh Blah Blah Buh Sibi," inspired by the cadence of windshield wiper blades when Rudd was a taxicab driver. This hypnotic piece is more reserved than that of the Jordan-Rudd combo, Kim gliding on her scat in an easy swing during her solo. The most dramatic cut is "You Blew It," a contemporary finger wag toward those who do not recycle and take global warming more seriously. Kim is on fire in her red-hot scat and swing dress, taking liberties, talking smack on the ecological mess-up, and shredding these lyrics. Pianist Lafayette Harris, especially on "Keep Your Heart Right" and "The Light Is with Me," shows his church music influence, while bassist Bradley Jones plays the yeoman's role, as does Rudd for the most part. The arco bass on "Whatever Turns You on Baby" and a lengthy solo during "All Nite Soul" are the high points for a woefully underappreciated Jones. A very strong disc co-produced by longtime friend Gillis (of the Live from Soundscape loft concert series), this is Roswell Rudd's best effort of the 2000s, and marks an auspicious coming out for the extremely talented and likable Sunny Kim.

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