The Adam Rudolph Organic Chamber Ensemble, performing at the Electric Lodge in Venice, called up memories of one of the less visible musical aspects of the turbulent '60s. Although rock was the dominant sound of the decade, fascinating if vastly different music was resulting from a growing interaction between jazz and classical musicians swapping ideas at the frontiers of improvisation.
Interestingly, that interface -- in which musicians such as Rudolph and his players search for spontaneous creativity by breaking through traditional frameworks -- has continued into the new millennium. Although it is a music form that still barely makes an impression on media radar screens, it is nonetheless a compelling example of the irrepressible creative urge to discover new territories of expression.
The Organic Chamber Ensemble, a sextet, includes three players with strong jazz credentials: Rudolph (who has regularly partnered with veteran saxophonist Yusef Lateef), drummer Alex Cline and saxophonist-woodwinds player Ned Rothenberg. The three other musicians are all from classical backgrounds: violist Karen Elaine Bakunin, flutist Ellen Burr and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck.
Although the ensemble's program Friday night opened with a spontaneous alto saxophone presentation by Rothenberg, the balance of the evening was devoted to Rudolph's compositions. Some included passages written in traditional notation, but most provided scales, tone rows, rhythm and note combinations intended to stimulate spontaneous collective sounds and free-roving solos. And what was most fascinating, in this unusually well-defined encounter between jazz and classical musicians, was the visceral enthusiasm that the latter brought to their improvisations.
Rudolph, Cline and Rothenberg offered confident, well-crafted solos, with Cline in particular conjuring up an astonishing array of percussive textures. But it was Bakunin, Burr and Schoenbeck, physically immersed in their playing, swaying with their rhythms, who best revealed the magical impact that unfettered improvisation can have upon talented musicians, whatever their background or genre.