Rudder
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"Rudder Review from LA's Baked Potato with the LA Times"

The sax was amped through a Marshall half-stack. The crowd sported some rock-dude coifs and a skull on a shirt. Today's funk-fusion ain't the same as your dad's, as Thursday's performance by Rudder at the Baked Potato testified.

But some things haven't changed. Plenty of audience dads were grandfathered in. The players represented an identifiable stripe of unkempt studio rat. Henry Hey's keyboard emulated a vintage Fender Rhodes. The poster-plastered Studio City shack itself had the same clubhouse vibe as when Larry Carlton fused there in '77.

The main difference was energy -- more stroke, less coke. Rudder came to groove hard.

Which didn't mean the New York City quartet, which has accumulated a substantial underground following in its mere three years of existence, neglected atmosphere. The stringy-haired Hey, looking like a medieval alchemist, leaked clouds of twinkling space dust when he wasn't striking the keys with constabulary authority. You never saw as many pedals in front of a saxist as the tall, grad-student-like Chris Cheek had arrayed, and he spread the effects with a modernist painterly touch, from canyon echoes to distorted clavinet imitations to acrylic-thick pitch-shifted slides.

Cheek's porterhouse tenor tone and aggressive solo jaunts stuck mostly in the deep slot of the groove, though, and so did the classic Fender bass pluck of lumberjack Tim Lefebvre, who beamed as if hit in the head with a happy brick.

Largely, though, it was Keith Carlock's show. The dark-eyed drummer belied his unhealthy complexion with an athletic assault that came off like a set-long solo. Man, he was loud. His kit nearly split under the centripetal force of his sticks, which conveyed a sense of constant motion without ever seeming busy. A colorist as well, Carlock extracted the most from his tiny set by exploiting both the centers and the edges of his drums. Especially impressive was the range he got from his snare by muffling or slapping it with his left palm; although there were spells where he concentrated on that skin alone, it sounded like nine.

Carlock's heavy foot, combined with his confrontational counter-rhythms, kept listeners' heads bobbing at the same time that they cheered his creativity. It was easy to hear why Sting, Steely Dan, Leni Stern and many more have leased his services.

The tunes from the group's new debut album "Rudder" -- Average White Band-style funk workouts, urban soul, techno chill -- were attractive. What put Rudder in a class with fellow instrumental reinventors Medeski Martin & Wood and the Bad Plus, though, was the playing. And the sense that this is music of the now.

~Greg Burk, Special to the Times
January 26, 2008
L.A. Times
Jazz Review - LA Times


"Live Review from LA's Baked Potato"

Live: Rudder Cooks My Spuds at the Baked Potato
September 22, 2008 — fluthered
Christa Crawford

Rudder at the Baked Potato. L-R: Chris Cheek, Keith Carlock, Tim Lefebvre, Henry Hey. Photo: Christa Crawford

by Casey Dolan

The four-headed musical beast from New York, Rudder, played at the Baked Potato last night and will also play tonight. It’s safe to say that everyone’s spud was truly cooked as Rudder burned rubber, playing cuts from last year’s debut album and offering tantalizing examples from the upcoming one due to be completed by year’s end.

The quartet of Chris Cheek on tenor sax, Henry Hey on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Keith Carlock on drums travel a well-trod musical path, perhaps one of the codified musical genres of all — the so-called evil ’70s creation of jazz funk, or jazz rock, or fusion (choose your poison). The progeny of the genius of Miles Davis and Tony Williams Lifetime ultimately made the genre stale and redundant, but, as with Medeski Martin and Wood who have surveyed similar terrain, Rudder has incorporated so many other influences as to make their music entirely their own. Cross-pollination and synthesis, once again, are proving to be fertile ground for innovation and improvisation.

This weekend’s two-night stand is Rudder’s second appearance in Los Angeles in a year and a different experience from the first. Last January, drummer Keith Carlock was the focus, astounding the crowd with his muscular swampy style and looking like an electrified muppet, arms moving so quickly that he was the recreation of the many-limbed god, Siva.

Carlock, the winner of the 2008 Modern Drummer Readers Poll, is such a fine drummer that he can handle all manners of tempi and dynamics and this was demonstrated more fully at this second showing of Rudder. Not quite so immersed in the 4/4 ashcan swamp school as before, Carlock covered the full range of dynamics, from tinkling the cymbals in creative moody pianissimo intros to the massive neanderthal wallop that he conjures out of a relatively small Yamaha kick. Indeed, after hearing what Carlock can do with such a small kit, one wonders why Terry Bozzio (among so many others) needs his ten gazillion drums? When Carlock really gets going, it is simply impossible for people in the audience not to shout out loud in their enthusiasm.

Carlock is still the crowd magnet, but it was the dimunitive Hey, coaxing every manner of sci-fi sound out of his keyboards (some would be appropriate for films shown on “Mystery Science Theater 3000“) and the most dead-on replicas of Hammond B4s and Fender Rhodes, who truly captivated the audience on Saturday night. His solo on the new tune, “Hip-Hop Harmonizer,” was inspired, not to mention that he twiddled knobs while, at the same time, running interference on a drunk attempting to confront Lefebvre mid-set. Very impressive. The sounds may have been glacial and spatial, but Hey managed to always return to the steamy funk, breaking up his quite lovely cluster comps with sparkling post-bop solos. Hey deserves greater notice as a keyboardist and it is clear that if there is any director in this democratic group, he is it.

Tenor sax player Chris Cheek has a reedy sound (moreso live than on record where there is a more rounded tone), but he colors it with all manners of effects including a wah-wah and delays. He’s the melodic center of Rudder (carrying such tunes as “Stablemaster”), sometimes almost romantically so, but one wishes he was even more adventurous and less willing to settle for what could almost be described as smooth jazz lines or the comfortable padding behind Hey or Carlock’s acrobatics. If Carlock occasionally dominates too forcefully, Cheek underplays. I frankly wanted to hear more Chris Cheek solos. He’s got as sterling a pedigree as anyone else in the band, having played with Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, and Bill Frisell. Every so often, he gave us glimpses of what he is capable of — crazy, fast modal lines a la Eric Dolphy or even a Ravi Coltrane. On a tune like “Stablemaster,” with its “uptown” head, you almost wish for some screeching in the solos. But it is also Cheek’s compositions which reveal the greatest rock influences, “SK8″ and “Squarefoot” particularly, and that is a good thing, and, on the Rudder record, he is given the opportunity to overdub and create mini sections.

The new material did promise a hairier side of the band (although there were quiet moments as well and one of the most affecting moments of the evening was Hey’s ballad “Laurito” from the debut album). Much of that hairiness is attributable to bassist Tim Lefebvre, who stands nearly alone among contemporary bassists as a compositional colorist. He’s there one moment, locked in with Carlock, absent the next while exploring the instrument’s upper registers (I haven’t seen a bass player play up the neck quite so much), utilizing a low pass filter and, seemingly, automatic volume swell, delays, maybe even backwards effects. In short, he’s not only holding down the bottom end, he’s entertaining as well. And when a deep groove is required, he is providing it.

That is precisely what is at the core of Rudder’s live show. They obviously get a big kick out of playing with each other and no set lacks surprises for all of them. There were some mixed signals on the ending of one of the new tunes, but that was all in the spirit of the show. If Rudder could find the right coordinates, as the aforementioned Medeski Martin and Wood have done by touring with a band appealing to the ”jamband” audience crowd or playing at such festivals, their course could be successfully plotted.

The band’s label, Nineteen-Eight Records, is offering three bonus tracks as downloads on their website. However, it will cost you $4. The snippets that are streamed are very brief.
- LA Times


Discography

Rudder, self titled 2006
Matorning, CD release Mar, 2009

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Bio

As one of the upcoming bands in jazz and rock today, Rudder has surpassed the genre and generational boundary crux that causes the downfall of so many groups. With combined experiences in the band ranging from Rod Stewart to Sting to SNL and movie soundtracks, the pedigree each member brings to the band ensures not only its success but its widespread appeal. Named as one up on Medeski, Martin and Wood and smothering the groove of The Bad Plus, Rudder has created a sound that is jam-band saavy with Zappa's electric live wire running throughout. Having been together for over 20 years in various stages throughout their careers, Rudder speaks volumes about enduring the business and has taken their minds and creative energies to the next level. As entertainers, their friendships and love/passion for the completely original music created, is showered upon the audience and feeds them the new sound they crave.