Two and a half years may seem like a long time to work on one recording project, but not when there's singleness of purpose, a sense of real creation and a desire to get everything in the studio done just right. That's just what guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel did for his third release on Verve, Heartcore .
"The reason why I took so long to do it was that my goal was to be able to go to someone's house, put the CD on, sit back, and play the whole record and not once think to myself, 'Oh, that has to be different. It needs a guitar there, or this needs to be a little louder or that has to be a little softer,'" he says with a soft laugh.
What's on the record is not hardcore jazz. It's influenced by hip-hop - produced by Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed, once of A Tribe Called Quest) and other music, which was all part of this outstanding guitarist's upbringing and culture. But it is not a hip-hop record. It has a lyrical and melodic flow. It contains dreamlike ballads ("Your Vision" and "Interlude") and many of the tunes have an exotic feel. Even though he cut his teeth in Philadelphia's jazz scene and has played with the likes of Gary Burton, Joe Henderson, Paul Motian and Joe Lovano, it's not everything that Rosenwinkel is about. The essence of jazz is there - improvisation and creation always at the spirit of his playing - but the studio this time was one of his main instruments, where he also provided keyboard work and drum programming. All the tunes are Rosenwinkel originals.
"It was a flowering of a seed that was already there. I grew up in Philly. I'm 33 years old so when hip-hop started to be innovating, I was digging it from its inception. I would never categorize myself as exclusive, straight ahead jazz. In terms of my own music, I've been writing since I was 9 years old and it's gone through lots of different changes and lots of different expressions, lots of modes. As a composer I have a very free, open approach to composition," he says.
"If I sit down at the piano, something will come out and it will be somehow related to the nature of the piano, what I find in it. And if I write on the guitar, the same thing is true. And if I play the drums, that's true. And if I use the studio - the studio is such an incredible tool for the imagination. Because you don't have to just play one instrument to communicate your concept to other instrumentalists. You can actually do everything yourself and pursue the music in a sort of a more solitary way, but really plum the depths of your own visualization and imagination. It was kind of like writing a novel, as opposed to having a really good conversation."
While some jazz purists, young and old, may now like the idea of a heavily produced studio piece, Rosenwinkel disregards any notion that it is somehow a lesser approach. It's just different.
"To be afraid of a method, I don't really see the solidity in that, in and of itself. For me, the way I approach music, there is no formula. Everything is an adventure in music. There's certainly a lot of depth of history that you can endlessly learn from in terms if improvising on your instrument and very, very deep and powerful lessons about playing with other people that is essentially at the root of jazz. The fear might be that those kind of mythical or sacred lessons couldn't be learned in this kind of method. And that's true. But that's not the case with me. I have a history in both approaches, so I'm not afraid of it.
"There are also places that you can get to by using studio that you cannot get to by using a band, in terms of creating sound. I'm making a record, so I'm making this environment for someone to sit down and put on a CD and just be enveloped in the sound. For me, whatever tool I can use to make that experience more powerful for the listener, I'm going to use it. Because I don't have the conceit to assume that I can always do that in every way. For me, music is something that I find, as opposed to something I know that I can make on demand."