CD Review of Rudder by Rudder
Recommended if you like
Galactic, Karl Denson, Medeski,
Martin & Wood
Nineteen-Eight Records
Rudder: Rudder

Reviewed by Greg M. Schwartz

udder is a New York City-based instrumental quartet with a strong pedigree in jazz and jam rock. Its members have played with the likes of Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, Bill Frisell, Sting, Jeff Watts, Bill Bruford and more. The band’s jazzy chops allow them to explore a variety of jammed-out grooves that makes for an impressive debut.

“Squarefoot” kicks off the album with a high-octane jam that gives saxman Chris Cheek a chance to step out from the start. Keyboardist Henry Hey adds some spacey textures while bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Keith Carlock hold down the launch pad, allowing Cheek to take off on what turns into an epic jam.

“Stablemaster” recalls some of the best acid-jazz bands in the jam-rock scene, but it’s interesting to note that Rudder has no guitarist. Hey does a stand-up job of adding guitar-like textures, though, as well as some tasty electric piano playing that recalls Herbie Hancock’s seminal work with Miles Davis. “Juray” starts off as an atmospheric space jam and slowly builds until Cheek’s sax simmers through with some type of cool, funky effect.

The strength of the rhythm section impresses throughout the album – Lefebvre has got superlative skills, and Carlock will remind some of Stanton Moore, the drumming dynamo from New Orleans’ Galactic. Carlock throws down a tight “Living After Midnight” beat to start “Floater,” and Lefebvre follows by laying down a funky groove that recalls bass maestro Les Claypool. Cheek and Hey mostly sit back on “Floater,” allowing Lefebvre to take the point for a low-end led jam that eventually builds into an exploding crescendo.

“Sk8” has a looser vibe, with Cheek back at the forefront. Carlock and Lefebvre still aren’t ready to let up, though, and Hey throws down some strong organ work before giving way back to Cheek for an extended sax jam. “Circle of Jerks,” “Lopez” and “Sad Clown” offer more of the same – powerful-yet-slick drumming, spacey keyboard textures, virtuoso bass grooves and far-out sax lines. “Laurito” closes out the album with an ambient track that allows Cheek to explore his slow jazz side to fine effect. Rudder may not be pushing a particularly original sound, but they’re darn good at what they do.

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