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Rudder Tries To Reinvent The Jam Band

If brevity, per The Bard, is indeed the soul of wit, then what are we to make of the countless jam bands that have proliferated since the demise of their esteemed godfathers in The Grateful Dead? The prolix and repetitive plucking of bands like Phish and Widespread Panic deaden the wits of all but the (often herbally intoxicated) faithful.

Enter keyboardist Henry Hey and his jam-happy jazz quartet, known collectively as Rudder. While firmly committed to the extended improvisational workout, Rudder is also a master of the postmodern wink, at once invoking the sound and sensibility of '70s funk-jazz and having a conceptual laugh. The band's second release, Matorning, is full of glorious sonic surprises.

The titles alone indicate that there are pranksters at work. It's a great burden writing instrumental music and having to think of apt names. Thus does Rudder come up with "One Note Mosh," invoking thoughts of Jobim and The Sex Pistols all at once. The music itself is less punk samba than Aboriginal didgeridoo meets "My Sharona."

Equal parts funk and jazz, and with heavy debts owed to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, Rudder is a breath of sweet oxygen in an oft-stale instrumental scene. Yes, the band is eager to amuse, but it can also sucker punch you with a ballad called "Lucy" that's as mournful and moving as a New Orleans funeral march. Rudder may meander, but not without a deft pilot at the helm and a hardy crew.

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David Was