Back in the late '80s, the life cycle of the vinyl record seemed to have run its course. Promoters of the compact disc had lulled people into the ideal that the little silver discs would offer perfect sound forever. Fast forward to today's marketplace and it's ironic to see new releases as available in both CD and vinyl formats. While the reissue concerns were the first ones to jump on board the record resurgence, several new music labels have started to simultaneously make their releases available on vinyl as well as CD and downloads. Thus brings us to the disc at hand, which finds the venerable Smoke Sessions imprimatur now offering double record sets of new music.
Their first session of their 2018 season, Renee Rosnes' Beloved of the Sky
is the label's debut release to get the full-on vinyl treatment and the results are splendid. Housed in a gatefold "tip-on" style jacket, the two 180-gram pressings were flat and quiet. Mastered by the legendary Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio, these editions are pressed at RTI and exude quality from start to finish.
Rosnes has brought back into the fold vibraphonist Steve Nelson
and bass man Peter Washington
, two vital team mates from her previous release Written in the Rocks
. Add to the mix the venerable Chris Potter
and the renowned Lenny White
and you have a top-notch crew more than able to tackle the seven challenging originals that serve as main fodder for this recital.
Rosnes is a throwback of sorts to the type of bristling originality that marked the iconic Blue Note label back in its heydays. Her work is individualistic, not serving merely as a rundown of chord changes for improvisation, but operating as integrated compositions that tell a complete story. The darkly brooding "Elephant Dust" jump starts the festivities with Potter and Rosnes' right hand locking in tight on the angular melody, lush chordal underpinning being provided by Nelson. In a similar manner, Rosnes' left hand mirrors Washington's bass lead on "Black Holes."
More tranquil in nature are pieces like "The Flame and the Lotus," where White utilizes mallets on his toms to underpin striking statements from both Nelson and Rosnes. "Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky" finds Potter on soprano and it's a pleasure to hear the often rambunctious saxophonist speak in hushed tones of elegance and refinement. Potter also changes things up by utilizing flute on the breezy bossa strains of "Rhythm of the River."
The two non-originals featured here are choice selections that seamlessly fit into the flow of the program. Bobby Hutcherson's lovely waltz "Rosie" was written for his wife and it finds Nelson channeling his mentor with some of his best work of the session, not to mention the crystalline touch displayed by Rosnes during her turn at bat. Alec Wilder's "The Winter of My Discontent" is pure bliss, with the group getting into the nooks and crannies of this knotty and erudite composition. Washington even takes one of his rare solo spots.
Riding out the wave of a stimulating set, the quintet wraps things up with "Let the Wild Rumpus Start." It's a flag waver of sorts, with White putting swing at a premium and Rosnes rumbling about in the lower registers at several points. Inspired by art and literary references, Rosnes has a story behind each and every one of her originals, but thorough knowledge of these allusions is not necessary to enjoy this mature work that takes full advantage of the vinyl format.
Associated Equipment Used for Evaluation
VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner