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Kurt Rosenwinkel at Smalls

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Kurt Rosenwinkel Group
Smalls
New York, NY
June 27, 2007

On one of those oppressively steamy summer nights in Manhattan, with the sky threatening to open up any minute, an overflow of listeners waited on the sidewalk outside of Smalls, hoping to hear the first set by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's group featuring tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. The fuss was partially due to the occasion being, as Rosenwinkel mentioned during his set, a homecoming of sorts. By his own recollection, the ensemble has played the cozy musician's hang only twice or so the past 6-7 years, during which time a lot has changed for Smalls. Without going into the past, suffice it to say that fortunately—and most importantly—it's still a great place to listen to some of jazz's more compelling figures. Rosenwinkel and Turner continued their longstanding collaboration before a packed house on this Wednesday, June 27, 2007.

The pair were accompanied by Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Martin on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums. Over the course of an hour-long set they explored five greatly varied pieces, one of which was a debut performance and which featured the leader on piano. This composition, titled "Cycle 5, may have seen Rosenwinkel on a different instrument than we are accustomed to, but he displayed the same qualities as a musician and a composer as he does on guitar.

Throughout the evening, his compositions utilized a flexibility of time in a way distinguishing him from many of his contemporaries. The pulse was omnipresent, but the use of odd and complex meters, and the "harmonic rhythms" he favors, made for elusive bar lines. However, within individual songs there were the familiar serpentine lines associated with both Rosenwinkel and Turner, along with the latter's trademark tone, fueled by plenty of fire from the highly capable Martin and Calvaire. Also of note were some wonderful solo turns by Parks, whose playing was very thoughtfully constructed, staying well clear of clichés and stock licks.

Rosenwinkel and Turner have been collaborating for a number of years on some very intellectual, heady compositions, with the leader continuing to work in interesting ways with time, harmony, melodic interplay, and improvisation—enough to make musicians like me want to study the charts for these songs. Perhaps the highest compliment one could pay to this evening's performance is to acknowledge that the head's desire to study the music was accompanied by the heart's receptiveness, as evidenced by toe-tapping, head-bobbing, and a capacity, vocal audience, with plenty of whoops and hollers.

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