Jazz greats Lateef and Rudolph stun audiences Thursday

By Christiana McDougal

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(Courtesy Fine Arts Center)

(Courtesy Fine Arts Center)

Exotic instruments littered the stage of Bowker Auditorium this past Thursday as crowds of people flooded in through the entranceway to see jazz great Yusef Lateef and percussionist Adam Rudolph. Gongs, bells, drums, a saxophone and an assortment of woodwinds sat on stage waiting to be played. As anticipation grew from the audience, it became evident that this wouldn’t be just any jazz concert.

The duo performed as part of this fall’s Solos and Duos Series presented by the Fine Arts Center in conjunction with WMUA. Lateef, who is also a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, has been playing music for well over 60 years and has been collaborating with Rudolph since 1988. With a background rooted in jazz and world music, the duo has combined Asian and Middle Eastern string, reed and percussion instruments into a genre of music that breaks down normative barriers.

Lights dimmed as the duo walked out together, graciously bowing to the audience. The show began quietly, with Rudolph tapping on a drum while Lateef sat back in his chair, center stage, and prepared his instruments. Rudolph smoothly walked back and forth playing different drums. There was no need to rush the expected tremendous performance.

The songs they performed were filled with traditional Asian, African and Middle Eastern instruments, soulful moans and chanting. Beginning at a slow, melodic rhythm, the pace increased to a point where you expected it to burst into a full synchronization of beats between the two, but it never happened. Their playing kept the audience on their toes. The two musicians were entirely entranced by what they played. Wearing sunglasses and a yellow scarf draped around his neck, Rudolph constantly had a smile on his face as he swayed to the rhythm of his drumming. They allowed the music to build up as it may and did not fight to make it go somewhere it didn’t seek to go.

Stationing himself at a piano, Lateef sat listening to Rudolph drum for a bit before he began playing a rendition of the early 20th century blues standard song, “Trouble in Mind.” His soulful singing was a sudden change from the experimental jazz he had been playing only moments before. His moving, mournful voice soon faded out as he went back to his chair to take out his tenor saxophone.

Rudolph’s drumming quickened, and Lateef suddenly blared out a few low notes that hit the audience like a ton of bricks. So sudden and unexpected, the notes faded in and out from low, bellowing tones to high, raspy ones leaving you questioning what would be played next. Demonstrating his adherence to nonconventional forms of musicianship, Lateef deviated from the constraints of expected musical playing techniques and began using the saxophone mouthpiece to create powerful birdlike sounds and squeaks.

Watching Lateef play, you can see that he truly adheres to his personal teaching style of autophysiopsychic music, a practice of deriving music through one’s spiritual, emotional and physical being. It is evident in his eyes, and listeners can feel it in the music itself. It emanated from the duo and radiated throughout the room as they continued to play in improvisational ways.

Both musicians had already confounded the audience; it was impossible to expect what would happen next. Interweaving very fast playing with slow, quick notes, Lateef suddenly came to life as he hadn’t before. Notes roaring out of his saxophone, he jerked in his chair, expressing the zeal of his emotion not previously shown. But as suddenly as it had begun, it ended, and he nodded in acknowledgement as Rudolph sat drumming next to him, his hypnotizing hands moving all about the drum.

There was no stopping between songs. A new song had already begun before you knew the one before it had ended. Lateef’s face lit up as he played various woodwinds and sang as Rudolph extracted melodic sounds from the gongs, bringing the music back to the eerie roots from which it first began. The increasing intensity of the song faded as Lateef took out his flute and Rudolph headed to the piano, where they played a melodic and dreamlike melody, which washed away the abstract music that had been played with such fervor just moments ago.  

The duo combined a fabulous blend of jazz, blues and experimental world music into one incredible concert that demonstrated of the ability that such musicians have to create new modes and forms of music. It is surely the most refreshing of all musical genres.

The show ended just as it had begun, which was unanticipated and difficult to foresee, thus perfect to conclude the duo’s performance. Sitting next to each other, their playing became quieter until it was almost inaudible. Unsure if it was the end of just the beginning of another song, the audience anxiously awaited, as Lateef and Rudolph looked upon them and smiled, indicating that the performance had come to an end as fashionably unpredictably as it had begun.

Christiana McDougal can be reached at [email protected]