A warm and understated trio record, Kurt Rosenwinkel's Reflections
zeroes in on an approach to standard repertoire, marking an interesting career turn for the guitarist in the process. With support from drummer Eric Harland
and bassist Eric Revis
, the six-string innovator opens a window to another side of his playing, featuring quiet meditations on the blues, ballads, and swing.
It's a curious listening experience, coming long after Rosenwinkel has already established an original voice as a composer and player. The guitarist's previous five albums have largely featured his own songs, beginning with The Enemies of Energy
(Verve, 2000) through The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard
(ArtistShare, 2008). As pianist Ethan Iverson
writes in Reflections
' thoughtful liner notes, these albumsand Rosenwinkel's legendary 1990s live sets with saxophonist Mark Turner
created a buzz that made the guitarist one of the leading contemporary influences in jazz.
also exists on its own, without all the much-deserved hype of Rosenwinkel's past discography. Investigating two tunes each by Thelonious Monk
and Wayne Shorter
, as well as three classic American Songbook selections, Rosenwinkel isn't necessarily making any grand statements here. He is, however, capturing a mood that displays what Iverson astutely calls "soulful distortion." Rosenwinkel digs deep to find the kernels of emotional truth in each composition, placing greater emphasis on the poetry of shape, texture, and narrative than the techniques of chords, meters, or harmonies.
The guitarist's buttery tone is smeared over the subtle accompaniment of his rhythm section mates, with all the tunes registering in either ballad range or an easy medium-low simmer. The latter is represented with a hip-hop take on Shorter's "Fall," where Harland provides a little bounce by doing his best Questlove impression, as the trio gives props to Rosenwinkel's Philadelphia roots.
A lengthy exposition of Monk's "Reflections" takes care to explore its subtle intricacies; the guitarist plays successive choruses that never stray too far from the pensive melody. Revis plucks out a short solo before the band takes the ballad into the kind of bright, walking mid-tempo that the composer favored. Similarly, Rosenwinkel stays faithful to the melody of "Ask Me Know," strumming with a unique sense of stuttered phrasing, showing the influence of Monk's spirit but never aping it.
Another smooth move is Rosenwinkel's inclusion of a standard of his own, "East Coast Love Affair," originally recorded on his debut album of the same name (Fresh Sound New Talent, 1996). It fits alongside the other material very well, reflecting the influence of the classic tunes on Reflections
while retaining the guitarist's own personal conception.
Word of Mouth Music also does a nice job of packaging the CD release. The disc is made to look like an LP; and along with a simple yet attractive gatefold cover, it makes one wish they had put it out on vinyl to serve the old-school flavor of the music itself.