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Kurt Rosenwinkel: Emerging Brilliance

By Published: May 16, 2006
KR: It's very simple, a natural progression. It's how we grew as a band. This is the nature of the music that we're playing now. That's not to say that in the future we won't make another more studio-oriented record. The making of The Next Step wasn't really a matter of responding to the last one in any way. It's a four-year development between the two, and it brought us toward a more live sound.

AAJ: Your quartet has played not only under your name, but also occasionally under Mark Turner's name as well, no?

KR: Sort of. There are distinctions. Mark's band is now me, Nasheet Waits [drums], and Reid Anderson [bass]. My band is Mark, Ben Street [bass], and Jeff Ballard [drums]. The reason why my name and Mark's have appeared interchangeably at times is that last year, we launched a joint band so we could present an attractive option for promoters. Since neither of us have the kind of star power to command some of the bookings we're going for, we decided to join forces so we could tour. We got tour support from both Verve and Mark's label, Warner Bros., which was a first. Musically it was totally fine, because our musics have a lot of simpatico.

AAJ: But what I'm referring to is when Mark played the Vanguard back in mid 1999, when he used your band, with Street and Ballard. Was that part of the "joining forces" that you just mentioned?

KR: Not exactly. That actually presented a lot of problems, because it showed Mark that he really needed to define his own group. At that time he was looking for it and wasn't finding it. So for that engagement at the Vanguard, he decided to try it with my band. It worked in theory but not in practice. Or maybe the opposite [laughs]. Now we know we each need to have our own groups.

AAJ: Your vocalizations seem to be more and more audible on the recordings you make and appear on. Verve's press release for The Next Step goes so far as to state that the vocalizations are an integral part of your sound. Do you see it that way? Are you consciously featuring your vocals, or are you simply singing your phrases the way many other players do?

KR: It started as a natural thing, like lots of players do, as you said. But I'd go into the studio and come away with the feeling that my sound had not been captured. For a long time I felt that I never got my sound on records. Then I realized that the vocal is actually part of the sound. I needed to discover that. So I began to be more conscious of it and bring it out more. I started using a microphone on gigs, really exploring it as a possibility. In the last several years I've started to work with it in the studio. So it's very deliberate. It's miked in the studio and very carefully mixed, because it has to be at that point between conscious and subconscious.

AAJ: Do you work on your singing, or is it something that you just allow to develop, as your improvising on the guitar develops?

KR: Sometimes I try to exercise my voice a little bit if I know I'm going to be singing. I might focus on my voice just a bit, to warm up. I don't know any singer-type warm-ups. I just try to sing more strongly and go from the bottom register of the guitar to the top, going chromatically.

AAJ: The most famous example of simultaneous playing and singing is George Benson, but he's coming more from a traditional scat-singing concept. Your style is very different, no?

KR: He's an actual vocalist, and I'm not. With Benson there's actually two things going on, voice and guitar, both totally central. With me the vocal is more just a part of the guitar sound I'm going for.

AAJ: You've been working with alternate tunings for guitar, and you've said that often in an alternate tuning you don't know what chords and notes you're playing. What kinds of notational challenges does this pose when you bring an alternate tuning piece to your band?

KR: It's a minor technical problem. I just use a tuner to figure out what note I'm playing, and write it down, and go from there.

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