Sometimes it takes a few minutes for me to adjust to Kurt Rosenwinkel. Maybe it's a matter of him warming up, or maybe it's me needing to calibrate my ears and focus. I remember seeing the guitarist with his "standards" trio at the Regattabar in 2009 and thinking for, oh, the first tune and a half, "Right, standards. This is how you play jazz standards." And then somewhere in the middle of the second song, things exploded — Rosenwinkel was working within and against the familiar forms, twisting melodies and chord progressions inside out. And his rhythm mates — bassist Eric Revis and drummer Rodney Green —were right there with him.
Rosenwinkel, a graduate of Berklee and the Gary Burton Quartet, is now 42 and still something of an ascendant guitar god. The first show at the Regattabar Wednesday night was near capacity. The audience was, I'd say, 98 percent men, many carrying guitar gig bags.
Rosenwinkel was working his latest album, Star of Jupiter (Wommusic), his 10th as a leader, with a great band: Revis, pianist Aaron Parks, and drummer Justin Faulkner. There were no standards here — the album is a double-disc set of 12 originals, and at the Regattabar first show, the band played half of them.
So was it the band's fault or mine that I didn't warm to them immediately? Rosenwinkel has phenomenal technique — revolutionary even — not just in his harmonies or his way of singing along wordlessly with his melodies, but in the sheer sonic manipulation of his instrument. For the first couple of tunes, though — as good as it may have been — I just wasn't feeling it. Then came the third tune, "A Shifting Design," medium uptempo 4/4 bebop swing. This time the form gave me something to bump my head against — for the band to bump against — with the unpredictable stops and odd phrase lengths. Rosenwinkel took a pretty cool solo, from his pearly, rippling upper register runs to almost subaquatic lower-register chords. But a lot of the pleasure came with hearing that odd form come around again, and anticipating what he'd do with it. When he fell into a cadence, Faulkner was right there with him — bam, bam, bam, bam!
Afterwards, Rosenwinkel joked that it was a "catchy tune I'm sure you'll all be whistling." He wasn't far off, and I was pretty much with him for the rest of the set. "Heavenly Bodies" appealed because of the wavelike motion of its ¾ time, the way Revis anchored it and Faulkner started playing fast patterns of six against the three. The piece took on a dreamlike quality, Rosenwinkel's chords going in and out of focus, Parks joining him, and Rosenwinkel sliding up with barre chords.
The extended guitar intro to "Gamma Band" was a clinic in how you'll never be able to play: a mix of bass notes, full chords, melodic filigree, overtones, singing, and delayed effects building up to a fat old dirty chord and a big "Woah!" from the crowd. The tune itself was a relentless, fast 5/4, recalling the intensity of Miles Davis's epic "Circle in the Round."