GENTLE HARM: Paul Rutherford (1940-2007)

Armand schulthess
As deafness increases

Paul Rutherford and Paul Lovens
Paul Rutherford/Paul Lovens
Po Torch : 1978

PR, trombone, euphonium; PL, percussion, zither, etc.

On Wednesday, 24 October, at London’s Red Rose, a group of musicians will gather to honor the memory of the late trombonist Paul Rutherford. We have heard Rutherford’s work, but are not overly familiar with his oeuvre, and happily accepted musician and blogger Peter Breslin‘s kind invitation to send along a burn of the album above. We in turn asked him for his thoughts on Rutherford, and the recording in question, on the occasion of Rutherford’s death. Here’s what Peter had to say:

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Next door to my home town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the late ’70s, in a Bohemian Allentown The Piano Man could not have even dreamed of, a small clutch of improvising musicians gathered periodically, led by a remarkable saxophonist named Gary Hassay, who’s still active and recording. His larger ensemble was called Dr. Vincent Sakeeda’s Attack Ensemble, and the Attack Ensemble performed with the apparent goal of blowing the plate glass windows out of whatever vacant, post-industrial, grimy storefront anti-venue they materialized in. Meeting Hassay changed my life in many ways, not least of which was hearing his copy of Machine Gun and becoming aware of the European scene, Peter Brötzmann in particular. I moved to Manhattan and picked up a few of the stunning FMP Brötzmann/Bennink/Van Hove recordings such as Balls, Elements and Outspan, as well as a few Globe Unity Orchestra albums, probably my first exposure to Rutherford and Lovens.

But this duo recording has long been completely inaccessible to me.

From the back of the LP jacket for the above tracks, the following quotation:

This is a clear proof that the hearer is more perfect in state than the reader, for the reader may recite with or without true feeling, whereas the hearer feels truly, because speech is a sort of pride and hearing is a sort of humility.

I don’t know who said or wrote it, but it has the ring of Socrates in a Platonic dialogue, maybe Phaedrus. Perhaps one of the many erudite D:O readers who has ears to hear can supply the reference.

Either way, it’s a fitting quote for a Paul Rutherford/Paul Lovens post. This is music for the highly tuned ear, both for the performers and the audience. To be able to hear this kind of improvisation took me many years. The space and quieter intensity of this approach can still pose challenges to my own focus and patience. The recording landed in my life in 1982, a 21st birthday gift from a friend (who appropriately has gone on to be a Zen monk). I was in the middle of avidly seeking late Coltrane, Ayler, Taylor, Shepp. The heights of so-called free music for me were traveled by “energy players,” characterized by density, intensity, unrelenting Pentecostal fire. I’ve been carrying this record around and puzzling over it for the intervening 25 years, sometimes feeling vaguely guilty for being unenthused.

Paul Rutherford’s passing, in typically belated fashion, spurred digging out what I have. I’m not sure why, but this recording suddenly opened up for me: charming, engaging, mesmerizing and as unrelentingly intense as, for example, Balls. Lovens masterfully complements Rutherford’s inscrutable anti-phrases. Rutherford meditatively investigates trombone and euphonium as fleet, pointillist sound sources. Each moment of the interaction between Lovens and Rutherford contains surprise, attentive deflection from cliché, the combined or alternating struggle and ease of utter spontaneity.

Also from the back of the album cover, also not attributed:

‘Yes, those birds did the same with me,’ said the first nightingale.
‘And what did you say?’
‘I said: “I am singing because I simply cannot help it.”‘
‘And then?’
‘And then they attacked me, as I have described.’
‘Ah,’ said the other bird, ‘that was your mistake. They thought that you had no self-control, that you might be mad and that you might try to make them behave in a similar manner. When I was asked the same question, I said: “I am trying to please you with my song.” That was an aim they could understand.’

If the above tracks don’t please right away, perhaps try waiting 25 years.

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We sincerely thank Peter for his contribution, and direct the Rutherford-curious to the following enlightening posts and articles:

-wordsandmusic
-the spit valve
-Bruce Coates comments at Shiraz Socialist
-Clifford Allen interview with PR, from 2006, at allaboutjazz
-Torsten Muller homage, also at allaboutjazz
-Guardian obit
-Rutherford page at the Sheffield European Free Improv site

And just in from Emanem: available 18 October, Rutherford Live in Berlin 1975, solo, with a number of previously unissued tracks.

Category guest posts, Paul Lovens, Paul Rutherford, tributes

4 Responses to GENTLE HARM: Paul Rutherford (1940-2007)

  1. thanks for this guys. the long piece especially is most marvellous :)

    and yet here we are with no comments

    and even the writer talks about “sometimes feeling vaguely guilty for being unenthused” about rutherford’s work

    i can tell you that on this side of the pond, news of paul’s death was not well received – it really, really bummed everyone out for quite a while. the circumstances were grim – died alone, ruptured aorta – he was known to have a drink problem; many of the posters on the r3 board knew him or had at least met him on several occasions, and people seemed to recall a mixture of good humour and very dark, bitter anger…

    when people – who had assumed this pioneer (in the use of his instrument) was fully in demand – discovered that prior to his death he could not get work at all and lived in poverty, they were shocked…

    it really did cast a long cloud.

    i am sure everyone’s life has many messages for everyone else – in my case the lesson that i take from paul rutherford’s lonely and horrible death is that to put a political principle ahead of everything else in one’s life is to invite misery (unless of course your politics are the other sort, the everything-belongs-to-me kind… but that probably leads to much the same place in the end)

    apparently a passage from paul’s young communist league membership card was read at his funeral – “(man) must so live as to feel no torturing regrets for years without purpose”

    i have ommitted the rest of course – because that is the only bit i need: it seems to me very grimly ironic that rutherford’s ideals should have condemned him to precisely that which he thought he wished to avoid

    thank you paul rutherford – it is a very valuable lesson and one which, alas, someone had to suffer for

    luckily he left behind some wonderful music…

    thank you for that too

  2. thank you *paul* that is

  3. I can tell you that this recording and the similarly-constituted Lovens/Kondo duo (The Last Supper) were two of the most influential upon me and other improvisers I knew in the 1970s and 1980s…

    Paul was here in California just two or three years ago, touring with Torsten Müller and stopping off at Woody Woodman’s Finger Palace for a trio with Greg Goodman. Paul was masterful as ever, and seemed to be in good, scrappy spirit. I was happy to at last meet him and it is awful that he is now gone, and gone in such mean circumstances.

  4. I hope it’s clear my lack of enthusiasm was due to my own thick skull, not a reflection of anything about Rutherford. I guess I was attempting to show some context for the inaccessibility of the recordings for myself, mainly in contrast to the fire and brimstone that I was more interested in at the time. I had a similar cool reaction to, for example, Braxton’s _For Trio_, a recording that somehow pre-heard in my head as boisterous, dense and gnarly. The long silences and the subtleties of it all were lost on me, also until fairly recently.

    PB