By: Trevor Pour
In the time since I reviewed Rudder's debut self-titled record last year (see review here), it has transformed into an absolute staple of my sonic diet. Its ambiguous genre label prevented me from accurately describing the music to my houseguests, but it never failed to impress even the most cynical listeneres. Rudder's latest creation, Matorning (Nineteen Eight Records), finds the talented NYC quartet with a significantly more focused sound and a substantially harder edge than their last release.
For those just hearing about this band, Rudder grew from of a team of four established musicians: Chris Cheek (sax), Henry Hey (keys), Keith Carlock (drums) and Tim Lefebvre (bass). Their first album was a whirlwind of high-intensity sound and thought, which astonishingly resulted in a superbly produced work of full-tilt acid jazz/rock. On Matorning, Rudder chose to infuse a bit more rock than jazz, but their characteristic paradigm remains: a complex and cerebral swirl of sound.
From the soulful organ grooves on Lucy" to the hard rock of Diatu" and the uptempo funk on Innit," Rudder remains as multifaceted as ever. A distinctive energy has finally emerged from this troupe, and finds itself present on the majority of tracks. That energy is intensified on the opener 3H Club," which powers forward with thick, unapologetic drum and bass aggression, leaving Hey and Cheek to dance and play amongst the flames. I've yet to enjoy the live Rudder experience, but this piece closely resembles what I've seen from live video and secondhand review of their concerts. In fact, much of Matorning follows this trend. These tracks absolutely yearn to extend the framework of each composition into longer performances and unrestrained jams. They're a teaser for the real thing.
Further evidence is found in the intense distortion of Diatu," a track that captures the unique character of Rudder by flirting with both metal and jazz in a six-minute track without missing a beat. One of the true strengths of this group is the ability of each player in the quartet to contribute with total aplomb; there's no 'holding back' in this band. One Note Mosh," an uptempo jazzy/bluesy track with strong similarities to the debut album, sprints forward with such energy and excitement that it takes all four members at full pace to keep it alive. Finally, the closing track, CDL," builds with confidence and beauty before an extensive crescendo, akin to something from the Benevento/Russo Duo at their very best. Hey's key's interlock with Carlock's kit exquisitely for the first half of the composition, followed by the album's closest resemblance to classic jazz saxophone from Cheek. It ties the disc together cleanly and leaves the listener with a pleasant and lasting impression.
A sophomore album is key in establishing a band's identity. Debut albums have nothing with which to contrast themselves, so they're compared to the rest of that genre's contemporary peers. But sophomore albums are inevitably compared to their predecessor and result in a firm understanding (or at least an educated guess) of a band's direction. Matorning does more than just chart a course for Rudder, it confirms that the quality displayed on their debut was no lucky break but the result of hard work and real ingenuity. Just like their first album, Matorning sounds better with each repeated spin. But, as I've always held, there's nothing wrong with forcing the listener to work a little for their prize. If you enjoyed their first album, this one is a no-brainer. And I'm expanding my previous recommendation: not only should fans of hard-driving, aggressive jazz check this out but so should fans of funk, acid jazz and Zappa-styled rock. This stuff is fresh. Put it in your ears.