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Stephan Crump: Rosetta

John Kelman By

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Some albums convey an intimacy that feels as though you're sitting in a living room, listening to an informal get-together of a group of musical friends. In the case of bassist Stephan Crump and Rosetta, that's more than a feeling, it's exactly what happened. At the end of January, 2005 Crump got together with guitarists Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox at his home to record a set of compositions which demonstrate depth, breadth and an understated but unequivocal chemistry.

Crump's career has been all over the map. He's worked in settings ranging from percussionist Gregg Bendian's energized Mahavishnu Project to the forward-reaching pianist Vijay Iyer's group. Rosetta works within a defined framework that favors elegance and quiet over flamboyance and angularity, though that doesn't mean there isn't a subtle edge to some of the writing. There's no denying everyone's improvisational élan, and it's part of what Rosetta is about, but it's equally about a collective sound that provides a soft veneer and makes even the most idiosyncratic writing feel comforting and totally natural.

The title track is a combination of stops, starts and mixed meters, but the sense of calm that pervade the entire disc makes even its less-than-conventional harmonic shifts comfortable. Even when Ellman takes a dynamic solo that illuminates the greater potential of even a two-chord vamp, there's an overriding tranquility. Fox's electric tone is clean and warm and, with rare exception, uneffected. Like Jim Hall, there's also an organic quality to it that makes it fit perfectly with Ellman and Crump's acoustic textures.

"Carrousel en Verre has a folksy ambience, Crump's spare solo setting the stage for Ellman's delivery of its equally folkloric theme. But when Fox and Ellman solo in tandem over Crump's changes, it skews ever so slightly—just enough to demonstrate a knottier intent without overstating it. This is also an episodic tune, shifting to an ethereal coda where Crump layers long arco notes over Fox and Ellman's delay-effected changes.

The bluesy "Rosie has a feeling of delicate disquiet that gives it a quality that separates it from convention. Crump's solo has a Charlie Haden-like simplicity, while Ellman and Fox find ways to be unpredictable without tarnishing the tune's roots ambience.

The catholic lyricism of Rosetta, combined with an esoteric approach to traditional forms and a relaxed and unforced feeling, recommends it as one of the year's sleeper hits. Its still intimacy inherently prevents it from having the kind of "wow factor that makes other records stand out more immediately. But dig deep into its unassuming honesty and intentionally gentle façade, and you'll find a rich profundity that begs repeated spins.


Track Listing: Tag; Were it a Loss; Rosetta; Kudzu; Carrousel en Verre; Rosie; Residual; Our Survival; Ing

Personnel: Stephan Crump: bass; Liberty Ellman: acoustic guitar; Jamie Fox: electric guitar.

Title: Rosetta | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Papillon Sounds


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