Kurt Rosenwinkel: Star of Jupiter
Star of Jupiter
How time flies. While he's been busy with a number of other projectshis collaboration with the Portuguese Orchestra de Jazz de Mataosinhos on the ambitious Our Secret World (Wommusic, 2010) and the intimate, standards-laden Reflections (Wommusic, 2009)it's been four years since guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel last released a small group record focusing largely on new original music. 2008's The Remedy (Wommusic) was an exhilarating live recording from New York City's The Village Vanguard, and if his subsequent releases have been as exceptional as they've ever been from one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, the all-original Star of Jupiter remains a particularly compelling reason to celebrate.
First, Rosenwinkel recruiting Aaron Parks is absolutely inspired; a pianist who first emerged with trumpeter Terence Blanchard nearly a decade ago, he has since established a bigger name for himself, both with his own leader debut, the stellar Invisible Cinema (Blue Note, 2008), and in his ongoing participation in young super group James Farm, whose self-titled 2011 Nonesuch debut and live performances, including a recent Mannheim, Germany appearance, continue to position him as a leading light of his generation. The rest of Star of Jupiter's flexible quartet is equally impressive: bassist Eric Revis, a longtime member of saxophonist Branford Marsalis' quartet who also played on Rosenwinkel's Reflections; and Justin Faulkner, a recent Marsalis recruit, replacing drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and already carving out his own reputation. Together with Revis, Faulkner brings another level of extant chemistry to that already shared by the bassist and Rosenwinkel.
Unlike The Remedy, however, Star of Jupiter is a two-disc studio recording consisting almost entirely of new Rosenwinkel compositions, with the exception of "A Shifting Design," first heard on the guitarist's The Next Step (Verve, 2002). Kicking off with "Gamma Band," both the track and the entire 90-minute album makes clear that a lot has happened since the more acoustic orientation of The Remedy. Rosenwinkel's voice has always been a part of his playing, but hasn't been this much upfront since "The Polish Song," from The Enemies of Energy (Verve, 2000). Here, however, it's without words, more heavily effected and layered, at times, into an ethereal choir that hovers over the guitarist's similarly effected electric guitarfor this tune, gently distorted and pitch shifted to create two lines an octave apart. When the band kicks in, it's with an energy so intenseapproaching, but somehow still not fusionthat the first question which arises is: how can the group maintain this level for an entire record?
Not to worry; while Rosenwinkel varies the tempo, the vibe and the density and intensity of the record, his group's initial leap onto a higher plane of performance is maintained throughout. Parks' piano solo on "Gamma Band" is almost as breathtaking as Rosenwinkel'sand when it comes to an end and the simple melodic theme of the outro begins, Faulkner's unbridled energy pushes an already fiery track to a near-nuclear degree. The following "Welcome Home" is also a welcome respite, a mid-tempo track whose inner complexities are masked by both a singable theme and appealing sonics. If Star of Jupiter represents any single thing for Rosenwinkel, it is its futuristic approach to a collective group sound. Between Rosenwinkel's varied textures and Parks moving between organ and various pianos both electric and acoustic, the guitarist's audioscape has finally caught up with the utterly modern harmonic sound world he's been honing since The Enemies of Energy.
As much as Star of Jupiter reflects an artist, a group and a concept absolutely planted in the new millennium and clearly committed to moving full speed ahead, Rosenwinkel hasn't entirely deserted the traditional roots of his music; "Mr. Hope" swings unabashedly, and during his solo, Rosenwinkel peppers his sophisticated linear phrases with brief, Wes Montgomery-inspired octaves, while Parks' piano solo navigates the song's changes with effortless aplomb, over Revis' sinewy walking bass line and Faulkner's similarly muscular support. "A Shifting Design" swings even harder, with Rosenwinkel's ability to vocalize both its knotty theme and his light-speed, set-defining solo something that might be impossible to believe, were the hard evidence not right in front of your very ears. Parks, too, contributes a potent solo in a series of trade-offs with Faulkner who, having just entered his twenties in 2011, is absolutely someone to watch, and watch closely.
Still, as much as Rosenwinkel's quartet is rooted in the deeper jazz tradition, there are equal parts more modernistic concerns. "Heavenly Bodies" somehow exists in the same sphere as groups like Radiohead (albeit with a much more organic groove), as does the patiently unfolding but inevitably more dramatic "Deja Vu," though Rosenwinkel's ability to shock and stun with absolute, joyous unpredictabilityjust as it begins to seem clear where his writing is headedhas never been more compelling. The title track closes the set with a kind of 21st century schizoid sambafrenetic, at times, with Rosenwinkel's overdriven tone combining with Parks, Revis and Faulkner to give it tremendous weight, even as his solo marries thematic idiosyncrasies with broad intervallic leaps and rapid-fire motifs to further raise the heat and set things up for Parks' equally pyrotechnic Fender Rhodes solo.
Rosenwinkel has experimented with electro-centric music on 2003's Heartcore (Verve), but that was a more decided studio concoction in the real sense of the word, largely performed, sampled and programmed by the guitarist with the addition of friends including bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Ballard on select tracks coming after the fact. Star of Jupiter is also a studio recording, it's true, but one possessing the unbridled energy, strength of chemistry and profound unpredictability of a live recording. The closest album in Rosenwinkel's discography to Star of Jupiter may be 2005's Deep Song (Verve), but if that album sported considerable star power, with the participation of saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Brad Mehldau, it's easily trumped by this record.
Star of Jupiter is a hands-down, flat-out contemporary classic that successfully captures the power, interaction and reckless abandon of a group that may be new for Rosenwinkel but, in the strength of its performance of some of the guitarist's most forward-looking writing ever, will hopefully have the opportunity to last beyond the one record/one tour that seems endemic to so many jazz artists these days.
Tracks: CD1: Gamma Band; Welcome Home; Something, Sometime; Mr. Hope; Heavenly Bodies; Homage A'Mitch. CD2: Spirit Kiss; kurt 1; Under It All; A Shifting Design; Deja Vu; Star of Jupiter.
Personnel: Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar, voice; Aaron Parks: piano, Rhodes, organ, Wurlitzer, tack piano; Eric Revis: acoustic bass; Justin Faulkner: drums.