Monnette Sudler | photo courtesy of the artist
The Roman spring of Monnette Sudler
Beyond being a god of soulful Philadelphia jazz guitar dynamics with early solo albums such as 1977’s Brighter Days for You and 1995′ Time for a Change, Monnette Sudler has lived her life as one of the genre’s most inspired collaborators.
Nothing better portrays this level of team interplay and intertwined improvisation as her two early 1970’s free jazz ensembles with North Philadelphia vibraphonist Khan Jamal: Sounds of Liberation and Creative Arts Ensemble. With Dogtown Records having excavated and released their assumed lost, most rare recordings within the last two years, Sudler — always a forward-thinking and moving player — has had to look back, albeit happily to a past she assumed she had put behind her.
“I honestly never thought anyone would find those tapes,” she said. Now, through the auspices of Ars Nova Workshop and the last night of its October Revolution festival, Sudler is playing with BOTH of those bands on Halloween night. This after having been a part of drummer Charlie Hall’s Miles Davis tribute to In a Silent Way as part of the same Revolution. The Key caught up with Sudler a few days after the Silent Way showcase to discuss the past and how it fits into her funky future.
The Key: This question could have nothing to do with age. This question could have everything to do with age. In the last year — maybe since the Sounds of Liberation came up and out — you seem more focused, with a greater spirit of collaboration and rediscovering bits of your past. Is that the case?
Monnette Sudler: Well, the release of the Sound of Liberation LP and the interest it has generated gives me cause to reflect. Collaboration is something I’ve always done, but the new opportunities to be in different musical communities are refreshing.
TK: How are you wrapping the Sounds of Liberation and the Miles Davis In a Silent Way gig in with your usual sense of forward motion? How can you look back, forth and straight ahead all at the same time?
MS: It’s not hard because I believe it’s all one continuum. It’s all connected.
TK: What say you about a new, younger crowd finding you and / or you interacting with them — not just audiences, but musicians?
MS: I totally enjoy interacting with new and or younger musicians. It can be quite exciting. Working with Charlie’s group was very pleasant because, first, they were nice men. Their musicianship was great so it made it easy for collaboration.
TK: Tell me please about the Charlie Hall / Miles Davis experience. Not only about how you hooked up with them in the first place, but how you perceived Miles’ music — his most somnolent stuff — and made it your own.
MS: Charlie Hall sent me an email explaining what the gig was all about and to ask if I was available for the gig. I am assuming Mark from ARS Nova recommended me. I had not heard of any of the musicians in his band but he sent me lots of material to check out. Charlie was quite organized. Listening to Miles’ music and reflecting on what was happening back then I felt it best to follow the road map Charlie provided of Miles’ music but to do me in order to keep my participation authentic.
TK: Max from Dogtown has been all about you and your past in the last several years between the Sounds of Liberation and the Creative Arts Ensemble live album before that. How do you think that he is committed to your commitment to the music, and making sure it is out from beneath the rubble?
MS: Drummer and friend Dwight James kept telling us about this young man who was into Sounds of Liberation music. He talked us into going on air at PhillyCam with Max to do an interview, Khan Jr. even brought his Dad Khan Sr. who I hadn’t seen in a while. I could see he genuinely loved our music. I told him later I thought he was a great detective…he searches for answers with an unwavering discipline. Even more important were the listeners who also have a love for our music.
TK: Did you ever think that SoL stuff would see the light of day? Did you even spend much time thinking about it?
MS: No. I never thought it would see the light of day and I stopped thinking about it. But I’m glad it has been released because honestly it has shone a light on me in a different way as well.
TK: I know there’s a deep, long story to be told, but, what do you recall most about Khan Jamal and what was alluring and smart about him as a player and co-composer that you wanted in on Sounds of Liberation and Creative Arts Ensemble?
MS: When Khan and I met, it seemed he had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish not by what he said but his actions. He aggressively sought out situations that would keep us in motion and adding other musicians with the same mind set. The groups’ composing styles seemed to work well together. There were several people that came in and out of the group before settling into the group that recorded.
TK: How did those two acts dovetail, literally and figuratively for you at the time?
MS: I think Khan just wanted his own group, separate from the name Sounds of Liberation although the core group was the same, other people came into the fold. He always encouraged me to do the same which I did eventually.
TK: I always wanted to ask you — what do you remember most about recording Drum Dance to the Motherland at Catacombs? That was my favorite Philadelphia club and few locals recall its existence and vibe. It is unfortunate that I don’t recall that date more vividly.
MS: I remember Gino’s Empty Foxhole but I can’t remember the Catacombs. I kept thinking about LaSalle College. You could help me with its location and maybe it will spark some memories.
TK: It was right under Second Story on Walnut Street. The door to Catacombs was around the corner, unmarked. OK. At the start of last winter, Max was releasing the Sounds of Liberation project and you guys were doing one ‘reunion’ gig. How did that gig go, and how did it immediately blossom into what, this second performance of the group, now with David Murray, and continued work with Creative Arts Ensemble? This certainly wasn’t planned, was it?
MS: The first one went quite well. Juan Diego was a wonderful addition on vibes, as well as Elliott Levin on sax, Charles Beasely on bass, Lamont Smith on percussion and Billy Mills now playing keyboards. It was also nice having Khan sitting in the wings smiling. I decided to ask David Murray to join us this time. We go way back too. David, Khan and I played in Sunny Murray’s Untouchable Factor together during that same era. It will be a reunion of sorts for us as well. Doing the creative art ensemble set is Max’s idea.
TK: Is all of this retrospection leaving much room for your newer solo stuff, your leader stuff, or is it really all of a piece?
MS: I am always thinking about my solo projects, but, I do admit to putting things on hold. I have always recorded in a more eclectic fashion, since my musical tastes are broad. Recently I have looked at artists like Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis who have longevity and are and were diverse respectively. But their recordings, however musically different, each recording/LP/CD had one focus. My intention for my next CD/LP is to tell one musical story.
Monette Sudler plays Johnny Brenda’s on Thursday, October 31st, performing in both Sounds of Liberation and Creative Arts Ensemble. Tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.