Trombonist formerly known as avant meets men from Mali

Roswell Rudd’s Malicool With Mamadou Diabate

St. Ann’s Warehouse

February 13

“Kora and trombone: who knew?” So joked Roswell Rudd February 13 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, where he fronted his MaliCool band, an eight-piece ensemble of American and Malian musicians.

Actually, Rudd himself should have known: Decades ago, he was at the center of the free-jazz revolution, a movement whose ethos—perhaps best embodied by trumpeter Don Cherry—was worldly from the start. But Rudd hates the appellations his earlier work spawned. (He even penned a recent screed titled “The Artist Formerly Known as Avant-Garde” for New York’s All About Jazz newsletter.) Instead, Rudd calls himself a “Dixieland musician.” At St. Ann’s, despite the African trappings, his plunger-growls and smears, not to mention his exuberance, bore out that notion.

There’s recent history behind this gig. Several years ago, veteran producer Verna Gillis played Rudd some Malian recordings; soon after, the two set off for Africa. The resulting CD, MaliCool, documented a rich, unforced collaboration between Rudd and Toumani Diabate, a master of the kora, the 21-stringed, harp-like instrument central to Malian music. Through their union, Rudd and Diabate revealed how the technical aspects and spiritual primacy of American jazz and Malian folk music make for a fruitful blend.

At St. Ann’s, Mamadou Diabate, Toumani’s cousin and a celebrated griot in his own right, played kora. Rudd’s trombone and Henry Schroy’s bass guitar sounded a deep bottom, while Diabate’s kora and Fode Bankoura’s balafon struck bright, high-end notes. Veteran jazz trapsman Barry Altschul found solid rhythmic rapport with djembe player Balla Kouayate. And Bankora’s athletic solos were stirring.

Yet the music’s core was defined by Diabate’s complex figures and Rudd’s pithy improvisations, as the group moved from African traditional folksongs to Rudd’s compositions and beyond. Thelonious Monk’s “Jackie-ing” proved a playful success, but an interpretation on the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth seemed merely cute.

In this context, Rudd’s rejection of the “avant-garde” tag seemed especially apt. This was affirmation, not repudiation. And it was social, not art, music. So what if the crowd kept to their seats? The soundman never stopped dancing. —Larry Blumenfeld


Boots in asses, fingers to the Taliban, limbs lost in desert

Toby Keith & Blake Shelton

February 13

Continental Airlines Arena

Yuppies and bikers, hookers and lookers. Here’s my question: Is there room for both Israel and Palestine at that damn bar Toby Keith keeps singing about? Or are “the veterans [who] talk about their battle scars” only our good ol’ boys who keep coming back missing body parts? There weren’t any recruiting tables at the Continental Airlines Arena February 13, but like conscientious evader Dubya before him, Keith’s found a way to participate in the war effort without, you know, fighting and stuff. With all the natural charm of an offensive lineman—uncompli-cated, lumpy, inevitable—he sounded positively limp through the first half of his hour-plus set, his old faithfuls knocking no harder than his new joints.

What grates most about Keith, though, is also his greatest strength—brute force of conviction coupled with indifference to dissent. When talk turned to war, Keith came alive like Foreman at the 10th-round bell. “Wouldn’t it suck to be a peace-loving Afghanistan man?” Keith mused, grinning broadly before sliding into his coup de grace, “The Taliban Song,” a gloriously disingenuous acoustic number about hardworking, righteous, common Afghan folk that owes more to Brian Wilson than to Merle Haggard. Here, Keith has his cake and hopes to nibble too, simultaneously pleading sympathy for the devil and still “flip[ping] the finger” to the terrorists. The response from fans bedecked in Old Glory ‘do-rags and FUDC tees: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

By the time Keith landed on “American Soldier,” his jingoistic good mood was unassailable. And while a four-story flag unfurled behind the stage as his guitarist invoked Hendrix’s Woodstock “Star Spangled Banner,” the message to “the p.c. crowd” was clear: All of your iconography is belong to us. By contrast, opener Blake Shelton was a model of simplicity, turning in a muscular version of his jailbreak hit “Ol’ Red” and stark renditions of “The Baby” and “Austin.” And his covers—the Bellamy Brothers’ “Redneck Girl” and Conway Twitty’s “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” working-class love songs both—hinted at an aw-shuckin’ sense of humility and otherness Keith misplaced somewhere on the last U.S.O. tour. —Jon Caramanica