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Renee Rosnes: Written in the Rocks

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Always a major talent who has transcended the hokum that usually accompanies the precept of women jazz musicians, pianist Renee Rosnes offers a mature and individualistic touch that has been recorded on far too few occasions over the years. In fact, prior to this fabulous session, Rosnes' last U.S. release was a 2010 duo set with husband Bill Charlap on Blue Note. Around the same time she gathered together Steve Nelson, Peter Washington, and Bill Stewart for the Japanese only session Manhattan Rain. Even though some five years have passed, there must have been something about that ensemble that struck a chord with Rosnes, the quartet gathering together again with saxophonist Steve Wilson added for further good measure.

The centerpiece of this set are the seven pieces that make up the 45-minute "Galapagos Suite," penned by Rosnes herself. Touching on historic text and various theories, the idea was to compose music that represents the evolution of the planet Earth. Though this probably sounds like some heady, programmatic material for a grant or other educational purpose, nothing could be farther from the truth in application. Rosnes sets a mood with each piece that suits the overarching premise, yet each piece functions equally fine on its own.

"The KT Boundary" finds Stewart's colorful cymbal splashes setting the mood alongside some thick chordal work by Nelson in tandem with Wilson's soprano sax. Over the course of the next two pieces, Wilson adds his flute to the mix and the results are bright and optimistic. "So Simple a Beginning" recalls Ron Carter's "Little Waltz" with its lilting melody and ¾ meter. Some heat comes in the form of "Deep in the Blue" where Nelson steals the show with one of his typically fluid statements, only then to be matched for intensity by Washington's solo statement.

The Suite wraps up with "Cambrian Explosion," the most programmatic of the bunch, replete with rumbling bass and collective improvisation that recalls the budding of new life back some 600 million years ago. And if the preceding hadn't been fodder enough, Rosnes augments the program with two more trinkets. "From Here to a Star" is a medium tempo blowing vehicle based on the chord changes of "How Deep Is the Ocean?," while "Goodbye Mumbai" serves as a frisky send off.

This would be quite a different recording had Rosnes hired someone else to fill the drum chair. Stewart seems especially attuned to the purposes of the pianist's originals. He relies less on typical patterns and riffs and more on spontaneous interaction with his musical compadres. Like Rosnes, Nelson is criminally underrated and his appearance here is a major coup. The whole being greater than the sum of its parts, this unit gels with the common purpose of putting Rosnes' work into the best possible light. They wholeheartedly succeed.

Track Listing: The Galapagos Suite: The KT Boundary; Galapagos; So Simple a Beginning; Lucy from Afar; Written in the Rocks; Deep in the Blue (Tiktaalik); Cambrian Explosion; From Here to a Star; Goodbye Mumbai.

Personnel: Renee Rosnes: piano; Steve Wilson: saxophone and flute; Steve Nelson: vibraphone; Peter Washington: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

Title: Written in the Rocks | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions

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