From the annals of jazz liaisons yet to be fully appreciated and documented comes this gleaming treasure of a duet recording by trombonist Roswell Rudd and fingerstyle guitarist Duck Baker. Singular trombonist and musical thinker Rudd, who died in 2017, was a slippery devil of an avant-traditionalist virtuoso, while Baker adapted to the shifting terrain of blues, folk, wise takes on Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk, and on-the-job free play, among other musical real estate.
Together, they made some quirky, beautiful music, as heard on this belated release of live tapes from 2002 and 2004, at the Outpost in Albuquerque and Tonic in New York City, respectively. A vaguely blues-ish tint hovers over the opener, “The Happenings,” and the duo accesses a sassy country blues flavor on “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” before veering into other corners of genre and attitude.
With the solo trombone piece “Bouquet for JJ,” Rudd pays homage to bone master J.J. Johnson, and on the following “Melancholy People” (not merely a single “Melancholy Baby”), he unpacks a restless range of ideas and detours, with and without mute. Baker goes along, gamely, with Rudd’s mercurial turns. Rudd was a fiendishly witty Monk interpreter — as he proved in projects such as the Monksiland band with Steve Lacy — and here he brings his personal stamp to Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t,” “Bemsha Swing” and “Light Blue.”
On “Show,” the duo comedically unfurls rampant tune-quoting and playful banter in a shameless, Ives-ian melody mash-up that includes swatches of “I Feel Pretty,” “California, Here I Come” and “Mona Lisa.” The more organically morphing finale, “Church,” traverses gospel-ish themes and a dive into free jazz explorations where tonality and rhythm lose their way — and, in essence, find it anew. Toward the end, Rudd’s winking snippet of “Turkey in the Straw” reminds us that his musical outlook was simultaneously serious and full of whimsy.
This Rudd-Baker document feels like an unearthed time-capsule surprise that easily falls into the category of timeless. — Josef Woodard