I listened to Tetralogy repeatedly these last days, in different circumstances: concentrated, distracted, on the train, with headphones on, in my room as a complement to the sound of hard rain (apparently the sky is still mourning Paul Rutherford’s premature passing in 2007). After all these years, and following the enjoyment of the double CD in question, the adjective that remains stuck in the brain as soon as the man starts playing is “loquacious”. Not only because the English trombonist used to employ the voice in his dissertations, the music frequently recalls a person who – whatever the attention level of the neighbouring people – will incessantly continue talking of everything with constant shifts of dynamics and accents. If you want to hear me, they think, that’s all for the better. If not – well, thoughts must come out one way or another.
It’s exactly that sort of energy – fused with an inextinguishable fantasy – that defines Rutherford’s magnitude. When performing solo, as the concerts from Pisa (1978) and London (1981) contained here clearly show despite some technical deficit, he finds ways to appear amusingly colloquial even while attempting incursions into the realms of the most convoluted improvisational possibilities, sometimes with the aid of a couple of electronic gadgets adding a touch of cheap sci-fi to the proceedings. What’s received is not the idea of a struggle, but the picture of a down-to-earth virtuoso enlightening us with countless melodic snippets occasionally accompanied by throat-injuring gurgles and cathartic grunts. In the ensemble settings (a 1981 brass quartet with George Lewis, Martin Mayes and Melvyn Poore and a studio trio with Paul Rogers and Nigel Morris recorded a year later) that inventiveness is shared with joy and brainpower, the resulting sums absolutely worthy of being collocated between “jazz” and “rejection of category”. That Rutherford is not around anymore – providing twists and turns to what lately has been dangerously heading towards modish flatness – is a real shame.