By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Kevin Ramos
You never heard anything much like Go: Organic Orchestra. It’s different in concept, different in sound. The concept comes from Adam Rudolph, a Chicago percussionist who’s lived in our region for close to 25 years. And the sound . . . it wafts you through an abstract Africa outside of time and terrain.
“It was like a spaceship,” says Rudolph, exhausted, fevered and awestruck in the wake of an Organic Orchestra performance he conducted at Venice’s Electric Lodge on the last day of February. The afterimages stick: 21 musicians (five percussionists, a violist and 15 woodwind players) arranged in a crescent to face Rudolph, who’s garbed in a North African tunic and striding around the open space, dashing now and then back to his congas, intermittently throwing up strange hand gestures. He waves up and down, makes fists, summons a chord block by raising however many fingers, hushes his lips for a diminuendo, points a digit to indicate a series of soloists. He’s improvising, and so is the orchestra, within a wide range of chordal and rhythmic structures that have been outlined in advance and coded out on music stands. The instant compositions ooze with dissonantly massed flutes, swell and fade, or cook like crazy. Butch Morris has been known to improvise with a jazz orchestra, but this has a more, uh, organic feel.
Younger adventurers in the ensemble include Chris Heenan on bass clarinet, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon, Harris Eisenstadt on drums. Also present are somewhat older players, such as drummer Alex Cline, bansuri player David Philipson, and flutists Ellen Burr and Emily Hay. Windman Ralph Jones points out that three generations of Detroit jazz adepts are onboard: himself, windman Bennie Maupin and windman Yusef Lateef.
One of Rudolph’s primary mentors, Dr. Lateef, now 83, is a living link to America’s music history, but no relic. Always he has evolved, manifesting his own expressions in blues, swing, bop, hard bop, avant-garde, world, electronic and even symphonic music, and making his most challenging contributions late in life. He has taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for some years, and doesn’t travel too much anymore, so the sight of him makes an impression. Bundled up in burnoose, scarf and skullcap, he presents concise, authoritative statements: lonesome opening hoots on ocarina, resonant blurts on a double-reed gourd instrument, cries of painful truth on tenor. The orchestra is the writhing universe, with Dr. Lateef’s instrumental lines the Genesis narration: And darkness was on the face of the deep.
The Go: Organic Orchestra’s third album, In the Garden, an exciting and maybe revolutionary two-disc document of the performances from early this year, is now available as a collaborative release on the YAL and Meta labels of its two principal creators. So here falls a good opportunity to relate some of the thoughts Dr. Lateef (slow and patient) and Mr. Rudolph (quietly urgent) shared in Rudolph’s Venice living room the day after the first concert this year.
L.A. WEEKLY: How did it feel?
DR. YUSEF LATEEF: I enjoyed it immensely, playing in a context where so many things inspire me. I felt that I was surrounded by something very related to my own aesthetic.
ADAM RUDOLPH: Yusef and I met in 1988, and he’s opened up many, many doors for me, in terms of how to look at things in fresh ways. Since he’s had such a profound influence on my compositional concepts, even though I have my own aesthetic, I think that he automatically felt comfortable. And in the past I’ve always written all the music, but this occasion was a collaboration — Yusef sent some music ahead.
What were the motivations for the Organic Orchestra?
RUDOLPH: This music is oral tradition. I wanted to connect with more musicians and find out who was here, and what I discovered was that it’s my turn to be passing on things that I’ve learned. So there’s a lot of these younger musicians from varied backgrounds, and it’s been an opportunity for me to develop a mentoring and also learning relationship with them. I think a lot of them were really happy to be involved in the Organic Orchestra, because they’re getting a chance to expand their ideas of how to approach music, and I know a lot of them have taken the ideas and carried them out into their own ensembles.
And what are some of the principles behind it?
RUDOLPH: Low sounds carry more overtones, so high is embedded in low, in a way that low is not embedded in high. Like a drum especially, you strike it and there are very complex overtones — that’s what gives it its character and its richness. So inside of that are all the other tones. But it’s also tension and release — so you control the low, and that controls the motion. Low to high is tension, and high to low is release. In Middle Eastern music they have a concept called usala, and that’s how they structure their rhythm. Also, Yusef and I were talking about Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist — he wrote this book Hyperspace. He postulated 11 dimensions that could exist, and as you get into the higher dimensions, the laws of physics become simpler and simpler. So rather than thinking about a stylistic milieu, we look at music in the higher dimensions — it becomes simpler and simpler.