After the incendiary The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard
(ArtistShare, 2008), guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel returns with Reflections
, an intimate, ballad-heavy album that couldn't be more different. On the surface, with a set largely composed of standards, and trimmed down to a trio from the quartets and quintets of his past few years, it might appear that Rosenwinkel is returning to the territory of his earliest albums, specifically his live debut as a leader, East Coast Love Affair
(Fresh Sound New Talent, 1996). But much has changed.
In the ensuing 13 years, Rosenwinkel has gone from being one of his generation's most promising guitarists to one of its most critically acclaimed and influentiala player and, equally importantly, a composer of often knotty compositions that approach the heady cerebralism of saxophonist Wayne Shorter while, at the same time, retaining an underlying energy and resonance. His Standards Trio features bassist Eric Revis and drummer Eric Harland, two players unequivocally comfortable in the context of the modern mainstream. Revis is a longtime member of saxophonist Branford Marsalis' potent quartet, while the ubiquitous Harland is an in-demand player responsible for lighting fires on saxophonist Charles Lloyd's Rabo de Nube (ECM, 2008), on the SFJAZZ Collective's annual tours (including a 2009 stop in Ottawa, Canada), and, of course, on The Remedy. All of which make Reflections' subdued nature something of a surprise...but not entirely.
The ambience may be soft, but an unmistakable energy simmers beneath the trio's approach to Shorter's gently funky "Fall" and insistently samba-esque "Ana Maria," the latter an eminently lyrical tune possessing a suggestive ambiguity. Rosenwinkel also cherry picks two tunes from the Thelonious Monk songbook: the nine-minute, elegantly swinging, uncharacteristically non-idiosyncratic title track (though not without its occasional twist and turn, both compositionally and in Rosenwinkel's voicings); and the slightly more upbeat, but nevertheless refined "Ask Me Now," where Revis' economical support choices remain essential to the song's delicate ebb and flow, while his earthy, wood-toned solo is one of his best on a disc surprisingly short on extended delineated soloing. This is, after all, a collective, in the best Bill Evans tradition.
In a lesson on the value of restraintof which the many guitarists who follow his career would do well to take heedRosenwinkel eschews overtly impressive displays for a deeply thoughtful, harmony rich chordal approach that always takes its time to unfold, even on shorter tunes like the Coots/Gillespie chestnut "You Go to My Head." With a warm tone and the combination of delay and reverb that's by now endemic to his identity, what's perhaps most remarkable about the entire trio is its immediacy and underlying restraint. Reflections could have been a high octane smoker; instead, Rosenwinkel, Revis, and Harland have created one of the year's most sublime standards albums. Tightly aligned to the essence of the material and the tradition from whence it comes, Reflections remains an album that couldn't have been made at any time but the 21st century.