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Kurt Rosenwinkel

Bill Milkowski By

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It's a pleasant Saturday afternoon at Brooklyn Recording in the charming, gentrified neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, the third day of sessions with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Eric Harland. They've been at it all day, flowing from take to take with wide-open abandon. It's a green light session—there are no mistakes, they just go, trusting their instincts along the way. As they dive headlong into Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," Rosenwinkel's fluid, warm-toned lines cascade effortlessly over the changes as Revis and Harland spur him on to Holdsworth-ian heights. There's a touch of grit in his tone as he sails through the tune. Then shifting gears, he summons up shimmering chords on a gorgeous version of Wayne Shorter's "Fall." Although this take sounds about as sublime as one could possibly imagine, they do another. Finally, on a third one, Harland puts a new spin on the classic, injecting a hiphop-flavored bass drum pattern that imbues the song with new energy and an entirely different rhythmic character. Rosenwinkel nods his head and grins. That's a keeper.

On a bluesy take of Larry Young's "Backup," Revis delivers insistently walking lines underneath as Rosenwinkel soars above, making some decidedly 'out' choices in mid flight. Next, they turn in an alluring bossa interpretation of Shorter's "Ana Maria."

The music is flowing now, the telepathy running deep on every take. And when this final day of recording is done, Rosenwinkel will have more than enough for an album. Then the decision-making process begins. What tunes make the cut, which get left behind? What about the sequencing, the overall vibe, the title? Just what kind of an album will this be?

At some point, the answers all reveal themselves. Gone is the burning Henderson track. The bluesy Young track doesn't make the cut either. A few others get dumped and in the end what they have is a collection of ballads—gorgeous, timeless melodies played with great sensitivity and attention to nuance and subtle interplay. Rosenwinkel's linear burn has been, for the most part, excised in favor of tracks where he's comping pianistically with warm tones and rich voicings or offering up some rare fingerstyle playing. It's a dramatic shift from the guitarist's last outing, 2007's The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard, which featured his working quintet of pianist Aaron Goldberg, tenor saxophonist and longtime collaborator Mark Turner, bassist Joe Martin and Harland. Rosenwinkel wailed with distortion-laced abandon on that exhilarating recording (a two-CD set on ArtistShare). This time out he's walking on eggshells throughout Standards Trio Vol. 1: Reflections, his first release on his own Word Of Mouth Records.

"I wanted to make an intimate trio record with that real acoustic sound," says the Philadelphia native who currently lives in Berlin. "We recorded a lot of material and I just felt that the music that had the most magic from the sessions were these songs. Ultimately, I figured out that what we had actually done was recorded a ballads record. And so I'm happy about that because that's something that I had wanted to do since East Coast Love Affair."

Recorded back in 1995 for Spain's Fresh Sound-New Talent label, that album (his first as a leader) was also a guitar trio project. In fact, Rosenwinkel reprises the title track of his maiden voyage on the new album. But as he notes, "I feel like I have more to say as an artist in the trio context and I just wanted to explore that open beautiful space again. Also, I just feel like as a player, I'm 14 years better now. I'm more comfortable with playing those harmonies. Whereas before I'd be struggling, now I'm not."

Rosenwinkel cites Bud Powell as a towering influence over this ballads project along with pioneering seven-string guitarist George Van Eps, a practitioner of what he called "lap piano." As he says, "I've learned so much from George Van Eps in the way that he's figured out how to approach finger mechanics in the left hand, in particular, so that you can have moving lines inside of chords and cadences within a voice and things like this...things that sound like you have two separate musical motions going on at the same time. It's very hard to get that on the guitar because you only have your left hand, obviously, so studying and enjoying and listening to his music has been really, really helpful for me as a guitarist."

Next up for the multi-directional musician is something completely different—a collaboration with rock producer Paul Stacey (The Black Crowes, Oasis) that will feature the guitarist singing a number of tunes he's written in the past year and a half. "I definitely have a lot of sides to me as a music-maker," says Rosenwinkel. "And for me it all goes together.


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