As listeners it sometimes feels as though we live vicariously through the musical experiences of the artists we cherishexcited by the thrill of discovery, the joy of constant growth, and the sheer emotional wallop that the best music holds. And so it's particularly satisfying to watch an artist emerge as more than merely a talented player and composer, but one of significance and consequence.
Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel arrived on the scene in the early '90s recording with artists including Gary Burton and Paul Motian, and while those early days were spent in a kind of post-Metheny haze, by the middle of the decade a distinctive voice was emerging that was equal parts staggering arpeggio, flurry of cascading notes, and idiosyncratic lyricism. He was also evolving a uniquely ethereal toneprocessed, but in a thick and velvety manner that was completely his own.
The best artists are those with voices so singular that they can be identified within the first couple of notes. By the time of Rosenwinkel's first release of all-original material, '00's Enemies of Energy , it was clear that this was an artist with the potential to become his generation's Frisell, Scofield, or Abercrombie. With the release of Deep Song , that potential is fully realized.
Following the more mainstream The Next Step and an '03 take on electronica, Heartcore , Deep Song feels like a consolidation and acknowledgement of everything Rosenwinkel has done to date. While the instrumentation is more straightforwardthe leader is joined by pianist Brad Mehldau, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and bassist Larry Grenadier; Ali Jackson alternates drum duties with Jeff Ballardthis is far from a mainstream record, with an energy and modernity that is equally strong testament to Rosenwinkel the writer as it is Rosenwinkel the guitarist. By the time the group hit the studio immediately following a whirlwind tour of Europe last summer, they were deeply inside both the material and the collective gestalt.
Most revealing are three tracks that Rosenwinkel revisits from his first two Verve releases. As good as those discs are, compare the version of "Synthetics" on Enemies of Energy with this new reading. What is immediately striking is a sense of authority and even stronger sense of adventure in Rosenwinkel's playing. Essentially an opening theme that leads into a time-based free improvisation, it also demonstrates the rich interplay taking place throughout the album.
Elsewhere, the newer material finds Rosenwinkel continuing to hone his language. The joyous "The Cross" shows how far he has come as a writer of melodies both attractive and curious; and like Abercrombie, Rosenwinkel has a particular penchant for waltz time, finding new ways of subdividing the rhythm so that every track has its own complexion.
With an all-star lineup performing material that successfully looks to the past, the future, and the now, Deep Song is Rosenwinkel's most fully-realized album to date, fulfilling the promise of his earlier recordings. With this recording Rosenwinkel makes the leap into that rarefied strata of artists who are truly moving the music forward.
Personnel: Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar, vocals, piano (2); Brad Mehldau: piano (1-7, 9, 10); Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone (1, 3-10); Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums (3-5, 8); Ali Jackson: drums (1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 11).