Three for the road

By JON GARELICK  |  August 21, 2007

Rosnes, who plays the Tanglewood Jazz Festival on September 1, has long been respected for her versatility and adventurousness. A long-time member of veteran bebopper James Moody’s band, she released a string of CDs as a leader on Blue Note beginning in 1988. They showed a post-bop stylist continually extending her range — something you can hear on the internationally flavored Life on Earth, which makes use of everything from Indian tablas to a Balinese monkey chant. But for a quick fix on her playing, go to “Lion’s Gate,” where Redman gradually accelerates and Rosnes comes in at a fast tempo and ratchets it up further, galloping through the changes, marking the built-in rhythmic turn-arounds with fleet riffing and percussive pounding, unfurling silky runs into the upper register.

Rosnes is engaged to marry pianist Bill Charlap just days before her Tanglewood appearance. If she is a latter-day progressive hard-bopper and composer/arranger, Charlap is these days seen as the keeper of the American Songbook flame.

“Well, we are two different piano players,” she says with a chuckle when I reach her by phone at the home she shares with Charlap in West Orange, New Jersey. “I hesitate to compare our styles, because I don’t even like putting into words what style I play. It depends on the context. If I’m accompanying James Moody, I’m not saying my style changes, but it brings up a different skill set from a gig with the SF Jazz Collective or even my own group.”

What skill set does Moody require? “He obviously comes from the bebop tradition and is liable to play any tune at any time, and you have to have done your homework. He doesn’t rehearse, he doesn’t talk about the music, he just gets up there and plays. And he does bring in different things from time to time. What an inspiration! He’s very enthusiastic about learning new approaches to the music or new ways of improvising.”

On the other hand, the Collective — the resident and touring band of the non-profit San Francisco Jazz Organization (SFJAZZ) — “is a composers’ workshop. All of us bring in material and write for the individual members of the band. All of us know the individual skills of the people in the band, so it’s fun to write for specific musicians rather than being commissioned to write a piece for a band.”

And what about the peculiarity of two jazz pianists living as a couple — have they influenced each other’s playing? “All I can say is that I love his playing, and now that we’re living in the same house and we hear each other a lot, osmosis comes into play. Although I’m not purposely trying to cop anything he does, I think as people who live together — you know how married couples or close friends may take on mannerisms of the other or a manner of speech, perhaps? I think there might be a bit of that going on for both of us.”

At Tanglewood, Rosnes will take part in a live taping of Marian McPartland’s NPR show Piano Jazz.

 A hip jazz-and-Brazilian-music-loving friend of mine once admitted to a guilty pleasure: James Taylor. Much maligned by the hipoisie, Taylor was, she said, the nearest equivalent to the samba-based bossa style: the soft, vibratoless vocals, the mix of cheer and melancholy. Samba is, after all, the blues of Brazil: rhythmic party music with an undercurrent of sadness.

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