Rudy Van Gelder, 1924 – 2016

Il 25 agosto scorso, sebbene la maggior parte di voi fosse ancora in vacanza, è morto Rudy Van Gelder. Ovvero il suono – inteso proprio come onde acustiche che si propagano attraverso l’aria – del jazz che più ci piace. Lo racconta sul New Yorker Richard Brody:

Van Gelder brings out the sharp edge of a horn’s tone, a burr or a buzz or a glare, that retains the connection to the column of air from the musician’s body, the pressure of the lips. His piano sound tends to the percussive, achieving a relatively thin but tactile plangency. And he’s a master of letting the power of drums come through without overwhelming the texture of the ensemble. That’s where the warmth and the cool come in: his live mixes capture a sense of the group—he lets each individual voice sound prominent while maintaining a sense of the musicians’ proximity, of the intertwining of their sounds and, above all, of their sensibilities.

Though Van Gelder’s sound defines the classic age of the jazz LP, he had no vinyl-centered nostalgia in the digital era. In 1995, he called the LP “the biggest distorter” and added, “As far as I’m concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don’t like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it.”

In Van Gelder’s hands, even the most furious music maintains a refined clarity, a center of calm assurance amid the turbulence—and he recorded some of the most turbulent jazz of all, including John Coltrane’s collectively improvised “Ascension” and Cecil Taylor’s thrilling “Conquistador!” On “Bags’ Groove,” from 1954, he captured on record, for the first time, the breathy ripeness of Miles Davis’s tone. He caught the classical fullness of Eric Dolphy’s siren-like intensity on “Out There,” the recording that first made me love jazz. He caught the crystalline thunder of the new-wave rhythm section of the late Bobby Hutcherson and Tony Williams (then all of seventeen years old) on McLean’s “One Step Beyond.”