Review: Kurt Rosenwinkel

Kurt Rosenwinkel
(Ronnie Scott’s, 18th April 2011 -first night of two – review by Tom Gray)

The notable presence of young, attentive listeners in this Ronnie’s audience spoke volumes about Kurt Rosenwinkel’s influence among the next generation of up-and-coming musicians. As he demonstrated here, he unquestionably belongs in a select group of guitarists including John Scofield and Bill Frisell, who, through a skilful synthesis of technique and electronic effects, have crafted a deeply personal sound that would rarely trouble anyone in a blindfold test.

On this gig, Rosenwinkel headed up a quartet which paced itself like a pack of elite marathon runners during a set of serious post-bop originals spanning nearly two hours. For the first four numbers, the tempos of the tunes barely exceeded a gentle canter, yet the brawny and unpretentious playing of Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums maintained a slow-burning intensity, which later progressed into a full-on simmer on the samba undertow of ‘Brooklyn Sometimes’. This is a rhythm section who make it emphatically clear about where ‘one’ is in each bar, which served the music well in this case.

The rather oblique heads of some of Rosenwinkel’s tunes came and went fleetingly, barely registering in the memory. This brought the improvisation into much sharper focus, and with some meaty and unconventional harmonic progressions to get stuck into, Rosenwinkel and the impressive Aaron Parks on piano stretched out, showcasing their contrasting approaches. Rosenwinkel favoured effusive and densely contoured phrases of sustained notes which sung through like a horn player’s lines and he occasionally allowed himself the odd flourish of metal-head guitar heroics. Parks, on the other hand, constructed his more spacious solos with Zen-like restraint, avoiding the merest hint of cliché or a half-baked idea. It is not hard to see why Kit Downes is a fan.

Compared to Rosenwinkel’s nonchalantly breezy playing with his standards trio, this music demanded a significant investment of patience from the listener. The pay-off—which became more and more apparent as the tempos finally broke free of their shackles towards the end—was a thrillingly absorbing set that was about as good as a guitar-led ensemble can get.


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