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Michele Rosewoman: Wearing Her Passion With The In Side Out

By Published: February 5, 2007

AAJ: I read something by scholar, Cornel West, where he said, "To be human at its highest level is to be at play.

MR: That's a beautiful saying. Special things come from this approach. My mentor, pianist/organist Ed Kelly musically expressed a lot of humor.

He loved Monk and Duke and Earl "Fatha" Hines. I think that's the nature of these heavy traditions. They are playful with the use of rhythmic syncopation and harmonic/melodic dissonance, but in a dead serious way. Someone unfamiliar with the approach might think that an element is "off," or arbitrary, but with mastery, where something "lays" is not accidental. It has a precise pocket, effect and a purpose.

AAJ: I was surprised to learn that Quintessence has been in existence for twenty years. What are your thoughts when you reflect on the group's longevity?

MR: Several things come to mind; the organic progression of the personnel and the great musicians who have played with the group throughout its history, the development of an ensemble sound through the use of unique forms and improvisational possibilities, and the development of a rhythm section concept, which is very important to me and has a lot to do with the sound that we have as an ensemble. I work on this as much or more than I work on other aspects of our sound. Quintessence has always been a great context for me to develop in every way.

AAJ: And obviously a showcase for your music.

MR: And a motivation for continuously finding appropriate players.

Today, there are more musicians that can play in the vernacular with the right balance of skills and a wide spectrum of abilities—you can find that in one player more easily now.

AAJ: Why is that?

MR: I don't know, maybe the global thing that has happened to the music. Or maybe it's the growth of the music. Young players today are taking in the tradition as well as other influences—Latin, odd meters, playing conceptually as well as traditionally.

AAJ: Tell me about the new Quintessence and what prompted you to choose these particular musicians to interpret your music.

MR: I have been heading towards using guitar and tenor for years, having liked the texture of the guitar with a tenor when I did it before. It's quite different from the texture of two saxophones, which was our sound all these years. Besides playing lines and parts with the tenor, the guitar can be used as a rhythm instrument to help set up grooves, as well as to add colors and effects. The presence of the guitar encouraged me to play more groove stuff and more electric keyboard. Adding a trombone motivated me to write new material for three voices. Having that third voice allows me to achieve more layers, rhythmically and harmonically.

A further evolution in our sound has to do with the musical structures that are behind what seems to be free and dissonant. It is actually our roots in traditions combined with these structures that are giving us that freedom. On my early recordings we'd just play heads and then go [improvise]. Now I often use an underlying structure beneath the solo sections that we can obscure because we are so comfortable with it. Put another way, we understand the nuances so well that we are able to obscure the structure.

The idea of adding mystery to the music through obscuring things has always appealed to me. It also seems fundamental to the very nature of jazz, as well as to the deep rhythmic traditions of Cuba. The idea is to know something so well that you don't have to state it.

AAJ: What does each musician bring to the table?

MR: Mark Shim has been my favorite tenor player for a long time. I admire his total lack of cliché, his sound and his collaborative nature. He knows my music better than anyone else in the ensemble and the new members get a lot from him in terms of understanding concepts. Mark is a real anchor.

[Saxophonist] Miguel [Zenón] has been playing off-and-on with the group. Conceptually, we are thinking about some of the same things. And he has a unique phrasing and energy. Miguel is also a wonderful person. Along the way, Mark encouraged me to consider musicians that I may not have thought of. He's worked with [David] Fuczyinski in the past. Fuze is an all-around guitarist. He is inside the instrument and very unique.

[Trombonist] Josh [Roseman] has a beautiful sound. I first worked with Josh with my New Yor-Uba ensemble and I liked the way he came in on the horn section [four horns] in terms of blend. I also liked the way he took written elements and used them as a platform for his ideas, without being confined by them. Even though I use a lot of written elements, I encourage players to take liberties with them. And it really works when they learn the material so well that the liberties they take are appropriate and rooted in the original intention. I have this in mind when I write.

Pedrito [Martinez] is a real musician, beyond being a great percussionist. He takes in the musical setting that he is a part of. He's also very personable and professional. There are only a few conga players that I have called for Quintessence. The music calls for a percussionist that knows the folklore but is not confined by it, one who will allow musical concepts and ideas to stimulate what they play. [Eddie Bobè and Eddie Rodriguez are two other percussionists] who have played with the group. I love Pedro's contribution to the two tracks.

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Download jazz mp3 “Warm” by Michele Rosewoman
  • Warm
  • Michele Rosewoman
  • The In Side Out