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Soul Quest by Ali Ryerson & Steve Rudolph

It is indicative of the current state of the music business when artists of this caliber are to be found distributing their work via the Internet on small, independent labels rather than through the jazz bins at Tower Records and Barnes & Noble. Perhaps it is a reflection on the commercial power of cyberspace, but I fear it is more illustrative of the sorry state of the mainstream recording industry which continues to concentrate on commercial pap, hip hop obscenity and "jazz light." It is a damn shame when artists such as this have to labor in relative obscurity while Oprah swoons over Chris Botti! But so it has always been and so it will continue.

Ali Ryerson is one of the premier flutists in jazz, "easily the most important jazz flutist to have emerged thus far this decade," according to the San Francisco Express. She has worked with such artists as Dr. Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron, Stephanne Grappelli, Red Rodney, Laurindo Almeida, Art Farmer, Maxine Sullivan, Roy Haynes, Julius Baker, and (as principal flutist with the Monterey Bay Symphony) Luciano Pavarotti. She has a number of albums on major labels such as Red Baron and Concord Jazz, several of her duo with guitarist Joe Beck on DMP and one with Flutology featuring Frank Wess and Holly Hofmann on the Capri label. (See aliryerson.com) Here she is teamed with one of the pillars of the vibrant Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz, pianist Steve Rudolph, a veteran of work with Al Grey, Buddy Tate, Clark Terry, Paquito D'Rivera, Herb Ellis, Buddy DeFranco, Terry Gibbs, the Mills Brothers, Buddy Morrow and countless others, along with bassist Steve Varner, another Harrisburg, PA resident who works with the likes of Pat Martino, Phil Woods, Dave Liebman, Billy Hart, James Moody, Ernie Watts, and Jeff Hirchfield. (See steverudolph.com and stevevarner.com)

This is a working trio and their rapport is evident from the opening measures of A Time For Love. The first thing to strike one is the gorgeous sound Ryerson draws from the flute, especially when she plays the deeper alto flute, an instrument on which she has few, if any, peers in the jazz realm. To beauty of tone add perfect intonation and improvisations that combine melodic elegance with an unfailing sense of swing. Rudolph is a sensitive accompanist and fine soloist with a percussive touch that provides a perfect foil for Ryerson, while Varner's bass lines control the sense of movement as well as underpinning the harmonies, an essential role in a drummer-less group.

Vital to a group of this sort is the selection of interesting material in a well-balanced program and the trio has done its homework in this respect. At center stage are three fine compositions by Rudolph, the haunting Soul Quest, Mr. Bim, a Bossa Nova dedicated to the master of that genre, the late Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the lively Oscar's Stepping Out, another tribute, this one to the late Dr. Oscar Remick Jr., former president of the PA Council on the Arts. Add to this several fine but rarely heard standards, such as Johnny Mandel's A Time For Love, Neal Hefti's Girl Talk, and Jule Styne's Never Never Land, along with the slightly more common My Foolish Heart and You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, all of which receive sensitive and imaginative readings. The result is extremely satisfying.

It is another irony of the contemporary music scene that it has largely turned its back on this kind of jazz, after so many fine musicians, over several decades, have honed it into a finely tuned, classic genre, of which this recording is a fine example. There has always been a place in jazz for beauty of tone and refinement of expression, as well as for the edgy and the noisy. Give it a try.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ali Ryerson & Steve Rudolph
  • CD Title: Soul Quest
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: PA*CT Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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