Wednesday 20 April 2011

Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet, Ronnie Scott's, 18 April 2011

Photo from Kurt's website -
The last time I saw Kurt he was with his standards trio, focusing on in depth interpretations of classic jazz tunes with a focus on chordal improvisation. This larger format (Aaron Parks on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums) showcased Kurt's compositions, his virtuosity and expressiveness as a melodic improviser and his ability to lead a band from the front. If the trio is at the George van Eps end of Kurt's spectrum (virtuosic chordal soloing, minimal effects), this quartet is at the Allan Holdsworth end (virtuosic single note soloing, an array of pedals).

From the drum intro to Our Secret World we could tell the this was going to be an evening of focused, energetic and intense music. I love the way that Kurt reinterprest and reinvents his compositions. Our Secret World is one of the intriguing tunes that made its debut on Heatcore. Comparing it to the version that Kurt played on Monday and the recent big band recording, it has matured considerably. Kurt's soloing had a deep yearning quality and within a few choruses he was really soaring, lines just flowing out of him. It lifted the music and, even though the material was probably unfamilar to most, it took the audience with him.

Kurt followed this with Deja vu, Safe Corners, A Shifting Design (and then I lost track). With each tune you could tell that Kurt was clearly aiming at something that he head in his head. By the the communication with the rest of the band and his comments about the (seemingly minor) inadequacies of the sound, he has the ears of a bat and just completey inhabits his world of sound. I like the way each band member has clearly defined roles (not always the case). Eric Revis take care of the bottom end with his bass. He doesn't try to play the bass like a guitar player (he didn't spend a lot of time at the dusty end) and he has a great groove. The young drummer Justin Faulker brought a lot of energy to the music and made sure that the collective sense of direction had some power behind it. Aaron Parks on piano never tried to compete with Kurt. He provided a lot of harmonic interest when comping and he solos had lots of space in them and interesting intervals (I made a mental note to check out some of his recordings).

Arrayed on the floor in from of Kurt were about 20 pedals and from where I sat it was really interesting to see how he userd them. He mixes the effects with a clean signal and is able to do things like hitting a volume-type pedal to sustain a particular note or chord, taking his foot off and them playing lines over the chord. Its totally built into his playing, as naturally as McCoy Tyner might use a piano sustain pedal. Seeing Kurt with his foot on the pedal reminded my at times of Jimi Hendrix - not just in terms of the effects but also in terms of the use of the band. Jimi usually told Noel Redding what to play (a lot of Eric's bass lines were composed) and Mitch Mitchell had the freedom to provide a lot of energy and interest (as Justin did).

The evening was all originals, I think, with the exception of one Mark Turner tune. It's difficult to say what his compositions are like. The majority of them I know through repeated listening. One point of comparison are the Wayne Shorter & Miles Davis tunes of the mid-Sixties. At times, I also thought of some of Led Zeppelin's more esoteric outings (e.g. Kashmir from Physical Graffiti). Obviously they are not easy to classify but they certainly acknowledge the jazz tradition in terms of their conception (heads, solos, the roles of the instruments).

A fantastic gig and great to see Kurt having an impact in the UK. He always seems to have had much wider acceptance in mainland Europe and had just come from 5 nights in Paris. Hearing this great New York band in Ronnie's made it feel like the Village Vanguard and, hopefully, it provided some influence and direction to some of the British musicians in attendance. This music is fresh, exciting and deep too. It's music I love.

Here is a review of the same gig from today's Financial Times.


Anders Chan-Tidemann said...

Hey thanks very much for your nice review of Kurt Rosenwinkel Group's performance at Ronnie Scott's. We've linked to it on Kurt's and our own websites - here:
and here:

Best wishes,
Anders Chan-Tidemann

Anonymous said...

Nice review, John.

The only thing I would like to add is that Aaron Parks' underpinning of the harmonic content of these pieces really pulled it all together for me, and I loved his solos as well.

I hope this new band of Kurt's gets in the studio soon!

John Clarke

John Harris said...

Yes, agree entirely re. Aaron.