Kurt Rosenwinkel is known as much for his staggering technical prowess as his tireless efforts to pave a new path of modern music. In jazz circles, much of his output is now considered classic (despite only being released since the mid 90’s), and his original sound and style has inspired a countless number of imitators. In fact, “kurt-clones” have become so ubiquitous that the description has become moot for many current guitar players. As one friend pointed out, he has had the same effect that John Coltrane had: his influence is something that cannot be avoided, and that has consequently become accepted as a norm.
So the fact that Rosenwinkel decided to form a “standards” trio is all the more interesting. Oftentimes, musicians who are so committed to being original and modern make a conscious effort to seperate themselves from what is traditional. I, however, find Rosenwinke’s efforts in this regard a more clear indicator of his ability than anything else. Anyone who can so seamlessly and expertly return to their roots reveals that they have nothing to hide.
Rosenwinkel selected some real workhorses for his trio, supporting musicians whose resumes establish them as two of the most tried and true “straight-ahead” players on the scene. Drummer Rodney Green and bassist Eric Revis were, in essence, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s personal sherpas for the evening. Green and Revis are the kind of players that straight ahead magnates call to ensure a smooth gig: they are consistent, reliable and tasteful. And while their confidence may sometimes come into conflict with their roles as supporting legs when uninspired or unconvinced of ‘warrant’, there was certainly none of that on this occasion. Rosenwinkel himself may not be the weathered climber that Revis and Green are, but he was certainly paving the way tonight.
They opened with Cleo Henry’s significantly under-appreciated “Boplicity,” made famous from The Birth of the Cool. Immediately it was clear that Rosenwinkel was the band’s leader. His extended solo intro to the second piece, Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” showed his mastery in the traditional idiom. But this was by no means a cakewalk for the guitarist. As a fellow concert-goer pointed out, Rosenwinkel ened the piece sweating and breathing heavily, a testament to the longevity and legitimacy of the standards he chose. It was on the band’s third selection, Duke Ellington’s “Passion Flower” that things really started to heat up. After a bass solo, Rosenwinkel launched into a staggering chordal solo that seemed to endlessly build, until he finally returned to the melody statement. There was no mistaking that by this time in the show, he had everyone’s attention focused on stage. One of the guitarist’s most impressive attributes is his ability to accompany himself in a completely original fashion. He may play a lot of notes, but his masterful use of dynamics in his own counterpoint makes every one count. By constantly taking a step forward and then taking a step back, Rosenwinkel is able to let the music breathe and sound paced even while he barely leaves any room for silence.
Eric Revis contributed a powerful intro into the fourth song of the night, another Benny Golson standard, “Along Came Betty,” and the band closed out the set with a blistering (even for this band) reading of “Dexterity.” There are dozens of musicians in New York city performing “standards” during any given week, and in the last 15 years Kurt Rosenwinkel was not among them. But while this was a return to tradition for the guitarist, the concert was by no means traditional. These standards became not cliches, but rather reference points for an extremely multi-faceted player. If a tree without roots withers and dies, then based on this performance we can be assured that Kurt Rosenwinkel will remain a strong, growing musical force in years to come.