“Vashti is almost a microcosm of what I perceive the (L.A.) Festival to be, this coming together and celebrating our diversity and also embracing the humanity of what we all have together--in this case, as percussionists,” said Adam Rudolph, who assembled the multicultural ensemble of locally based drummers for the festival.
“Home, place and memory is what everybody will bring to (the group) but, for us, there’s also the creation in the moment. Dialogue is the word--listening to and respecting what the other person has to say and seeing what it is inside your musical experience you can respond with to that.”
Vashti performs tonight at 8 at All Saints Church in Pasadena as part of the “Sacred Landmarks” series. The quintet of Rudolph, Albert (Tootie) Heath, Poovalur Srinivasan (originally from south India), Souhael Kaspar (Egypt) and I Nyomen Wenten (Bali) also plays Sept. 15 at St. Anne’s Church in North Hollywood.
“My role is going to be more as a catalyst/bandleader where I create a setting,” explained Rudolph, 37, during an interview in his Venice home. “It’s not going to make sense to write out music for these master improvisers but it can’t be chaos, either. Some things can give (the music) cohesion but also leave it open so there will be the element of the unknown that I hope will really inspire an audience.”
Rudolph may be the busiest musician in the festival. His own group Moving Pictures with guest Jihad Racy performs Sept. 5 at the Mid-Wilshire Temple and Sept. 16 at the Second Baptist Church.
At Jewel’s Catch One on Sept. 10, he’ll play percussion for the Zahar group of Hassan Hakmoun, the Moroccan gnawa musician he’s worked with since 1988. The same night the festival presents another old playing partner--Gambian griot Foday Musa Suso, who founded the Mandingo Griot Society with Rudolph in 1977.
Ironically, in light of his heavy festival schedule, Rudolph has called Los Angeles home for nearly 15 years, yet rarely performed here. Overseas engagements have kept him occupied in the broad range of musical contexts he relishes.
“What’s interesting about the time we’re living in is that so many musicians we may only be aware of on record who live on the other side of the world are our neighbors now,” he said. “We can go there--they can come here. They’ve become our musical peers.”
Rudolph was introduced to music by his father, who often took him as a boy to hear the Chicago Symphony and jazz giants Max Roach, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Growing up in the Hyde Park area of Chicago, he was exposed to the classic blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and the wide-ranging, jazz-based experimentation of the AACM (Assn. for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).
Rudolph was encouraged to play by AACM musicians and began performing before he had his driver’s license. He graduated from Oberlin College after designing his own ethnomusicology major, including a year in New York City where he studied Cuban, Haitian and South Indian drumming. In 1977, he headed for West Africa and met Suso, who promptly persuaded him to return to Chicago.
Since then, Rudolph has become part of a floating pool of international musician/composers linked more by a common approach than geography or genre. Among them: saxophonist Yusef Lateef, Indian violinist Shankar, trumpeter Don Cherry, Hakmoun, Suso and trumpeter Jon Hassell.
All those musicians broadly share what Rudolph calls an “audio syncretic” blend, mixing far-flung musical traditions with the improvisation inherent in the African-American improvising tradition (a term he prefers to jazz ).
“What for me is a very high level of improvisation is when you can actually begin to improvise the larger form itself and have it make sense and move places,” said Rudolph. “We have these road maps where I know we’re going to eventually get from point A to point B, but how we get from A to B can be quite open.”
Rudolph has released one album with Hakmoun, “Gift of the Gnawa,” and three as a member of the cooperative quartet Eternal Wind, all on the Flying Fish label. But his chief focus now is Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures, a group centered around the Rudolph, concert harpist Susan Allen and reed player Ralph Jones.
The group’s debut album was released last year by Flying Fish and Rudolph said the group would unveil some new pieces at its festival performances.
“I’m a composer who improvises and an improviser who composes and those two things are constantly informing each other,” he said. “You always think about writing as ways of inspiring that improvisation, to create an environment for that spontaneous element to take place in.
“Percussion happens to be the vehicle I use to get to the music, the feeling and the story that the music is trying to tell. My technique doesn’t lead my creativity--my creativity leads my technique.”