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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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Of course, the latter characteristic can't be said about Rosenwinkel's appearance, as it seems to be a first encounter (or, at least, a first formal encounter); but, as their Montréal audience discovered just moments into Anderson's "Love is the Answer"—a song that dates back to TBP's 2001 eponymous debut on the Spanish Fresh Sound New Talent imprint—if there wasn't a longstanding simpatico between the trio and guitarist, there certainly seemed to be plenty of immediate chemistry and, even more, no shortage of sparks flying around the stage...even if they were somewhat subdued in a tune largely driven by the normally boisterous King, who only switched from brushes to sticks and more energy when Rosenwinkel took his first solo of the night.

And what a solo. It's been four years since last seeing the guitarist with his own quartet at the 2013 FIJM and, while his own show the following evening was a question mark, given the significantly different approach he's taken on his new album Caipi (Heartcore, 2017), one thing that was perfectly clear throughout his performance with TBP was that he's a musician who truly continues to evolve year-after-year...irrespective of the music he's playing. Recalling his sound check before delivering a festival highlight at the 2004 Ottawa Jazz Festival, once Rosenwinkel had finished setting things up with his quartet, he continued to practice, practice, practice...beyond, in fact, when the festival wanted to open its doors, until he got what he was working on just right.

It's impossible to know, without speaking to the guitarist, how things are 13 years later, but it sure feels like he continues to work at evolving his concept. Always a particularly fluid player, Rosenwinkel was in particularly fine form with The Bad Plus, creating remarkable phrases that leapt across his strings horizontally, but also moved with ease up and down the neck, executing remarkable leaps and chordal voicings that were as personal to him as Ben Monder's were the previous evening, in his performance with Ingrid & Christine Jensen.

But this performance was not just about how strong Rosenwinkel was, and how much he brought to TBP; this was a quartet of players equally matched but constantly pushing and pulling each other throughout a set that drew on These Are the Vistas—specifically Anderson's irregularly metered "Big Eater" and Iverson's particularly satisfying "Guilty"—and 2004 Columbia follow-up, Give's "Dirty Blonde" (another Anderson tune), to Iverson's pre-Bad Plus composition "Neon" ("Ethan's favourite gas," Anderson also added, dryly), from the pianist's The Minor Passions (Fresh Sound New Talent, 1999) and, culled from TBP's collaboration with saxophonist Joshua Redman (the aptly named The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman (Nonesuch, 2015)), Anderson's slowly building, show-stopping set-closer "Silence is the Question," which ultimately peaked...and then slowly faded to black.

Iverson—a long-avowed, atypical non-fan of Bill Evans who, instead, cites Thelonious Monk as a primary influence in his early days, performed with a perfect blend of power and elegance, his solos motivically building, idea upon idea, with spontaneous construction. Anderson, always a rock solid anchor, soloed with a similar combination of delicate lyricism and robust tone. King, who often tended to overwhelm the group in its early days, was still a forced with which to be reckoned, but has evolved into a far subtler drummer, even though he was still capable of frenzied accompaniment when called for. Together, they seemed to be communicating on a far deeper level than back when they were the much- hyped critics' darlings. Sometimes it's better for time to pass, for the music and the musicians to evolve, and for the music to speak for itself.

Which it most certainly did throughout the set. For whatever it may be worth, experiencing TBP fourteen years after it's over-hyped days, in particular with Rosenwinkel, was enough to make a true believer out of even the most jaded. The disappointing news is that Iverson has decided to leave The Bad Plus after roughly 17 years—finishing out his 2017 commitments before being replaced (if that is even an appropriate word) by Orrin Evans, a fine pianist in his own right, with his own fine track record, but who will, no doubt, significantly alter the trio's complexion.

Still, with the band's announcement clearly presenting this major change in a most positive light, while it's unfortunate that there won't be another opportunity to catch the original lineup on its own after this evening's epiphany, the next time the group comes to a nearby festival on its own, it will still absolutely remain high on the list of "must-see" events.

July 2: Kurt Rosenwinkel, Caipi, L'Astral

After such a strong set the previous night with The Bad Plus, expectations were high—and, for those who'd not yet heard it, so was curiosity—for Kurt Rosenwinkel's first FIJM performance since his stellar New Quartet show in 2013, touring in support of his equally superb Star of Jupiter (Wommusic, 2012).

This year, guitarist/vocalist Rosenwinkel has been touring a new album, Caipa, that he described, during his packed, 100-minute performance at L'Astral, as "Brazilian, jazz, rock and other things." And, indeed, with a brand new sextet that featured three musicians from Brazil (guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Pedro Martins, bassist/vocalist Frederico Heliodoro and percussionist/vocalist Antonio Loureiro), along with German pianist/keyboardist/vocalist Olivia Trummer and American drummer Bill Campbell - Guitar, there was plenty of Brazilian vibe to be found, along with some higher-powered rock energy, plenty of the sophisticated jazz language that has defined Rosenwinkel since he first came onto the scene in the mid-'90s...and, indeed, more.

But wait a tick: Kurt Rosenwinkel? vocals? Yes, Caipi —a reduction of the Brazilian (Portuguese, actually) word caipirinha—a Brazilian cocktail made with cachaca, lime or lemon juice, sugar, and crushed ice—represents not just the usual evolution expected from one of his generation's most impressive guitarists and musical conceptualists; it's an album of songs, some sung by Rosenwinkel, some by Martins and some by Trummer, but with five singers on hand, plenty of unison and octave unison parts were shared during the thirteen songs that made up the guitarist's set. And, while Rosenwinkel may not have a particularly memorable voice, he proved to certainly be a fine enough singer... not just with good pitch and an appealing tone, but capable of singing a song's melody while executing his often frighteningly constructed guitar phrases and sophisticated chordal voicings.

In fact, what was perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his L'Astral performance was that this was music that represented a completely new direction for Rosenwinkel—and kudos to the guitarist for having the cojones to make such a dramatic shift in direction, an even more monumental musical move than his 2003 electronica-centric album, Heartcore—and yet, from the very first moments of the propulsive groove that opened the set's first tune, Caipi's title track, the complexion of the collective blend of these six fine musicians (all leaders in their own right) still sounded like nobody else but Rosenwinkel.

And this was not a typical Rosenwinkel performance, with copious solo space for the guitarist to explore; again, these were songs and, besides sharing solo duties with everyone in his band, for the most part Rosenwinkel's solos—like the best song solos—were relatively limited, and kept completely within the context of the tunes, the majority of which were culled from Caipi, but also featuring a couple of new songs as well.

It may have been a bold new move for Rosenwinkel, but it was an absolutely successful one. As he told the audience during one of his introductions, he'd actually been thinking about this project for the past decade, writing material that, when it felt like a Caipirinha song, which he began describing as "a Caipi song," the guitarist would put it away until he finally had enough material to make the album. The first on his own new Heartcore Records imprint, to make that even clearer, despite dressed in his usual attire, with a cap on his head and a checkered shirt—as he wore the night before with The Bad Plus —for this show he also had a Heartcore T-shirt, worn over his long-sleeved button-down shirt.

Beyond Rosenwinkel's consistently inventive, imaginative and, for most guitarists, head- scratching solos, there were also some fine spotlight moments for the rest of the band, in particular Martins, who took a couple of solos that, while clearly his own, did suggest that he's either studied, studied with or absorbed by osmosis some of Rosenwinkel's approach to harmony, melody and tone. That said, he also added plenty of other colors to the set, including reverse-attacking lines made broader through the use of delay; occasional looping; and rich chords created with volume pedal swells and plenty of delay and reverb.

The younger Martins also added some rock energy and exhilarating visuals to the set; at one point towards the end of the set, Rosenwinkel stepped back from his position front and center stage, moving closer to Martins as he faced the other guitarist and the two played with a commonly seen rock pose. But pose it may have been, these were no poseurs; this, and the entire visual appearance of the group, was entirely natural...never contrived.

Tummer proved a fine pianist whose acumen became increasingly apparent during the show as she blended lyrical virtuosity on grand piano with a wealth of colors from a synthesizer positioned on top of it. Loureiro, who worked hand-in-glove with Campbell—no mean feat in itself, as it takes real skill for percussionists and drummers not to step on each others' toes—was given a strong solo spot over a fervent ostinato, just as Rosenwinkel was afforded the same later in the set, over an ostinato-based set of power chords delivered with gusto by Martins.

While his role was largely to anchor the group—especially when Campbell and Loureiro were creating complex polyrhythms for songs that, nevertheless, avoided irregular meters—Heliodoro did get one opportunity to strut early in the set, proving himself to be a fine soloist as well. And following the ostinato that drove Loureiro's solo, Trummer introduced "Recognized"—a new song co-written by the pianist and Rosenwinkel—with an a cappella solo that began, motif-driven, by the very same notes of that ostinato, creating a lovely sense of symmetry and continuity as she gradually expanded upon them, ultimately leading to the band's return and the next song commencing.

Those of a superficial mindset might compare some aspects of this music to Pat Metheny's Brazilian period, beginning with 1984's First Circle (ECM) through to The Road to You: Live in Europe (Geffen, 1993)—and there's no doubt that, in his very earliest days, the influence of the older guitarist loomed large over Rosenwinkel. Still, that's long since been subsumed within his increasingly personal, instantly recognizable approach. Rosenwinkel has, especially since his Verve debut The Enemies of Energy (2000) and 2001 follow-up The Next Step, asserted his own style, one which has become as influential to the next generation(s) of guitarists as Metheny was on his own.
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