Killer guitars — and bands

By JON GARELICK  |  March 10, 2008

The current trio, says Metheny, has stretched each player out of his comfort zone. “It isn’t a no-brainer. It was good from the very first gig, but it’s also taken time, and I wanted to take that time. We’ve all had to make room for each other. And we all play a lot of stuff — it’s a pretty dense-sounding band for three guys.”

This is the first Metheny trio album to be built entirely of his own compositions — written over time to play to the band’s strengths, some pieces tried and discarded. In that sense, it might be the most “Metheny-like” of his trio albums — favoring folk-pop lyricism even as it flies through odd meters and daunting harmonic shifts. He exploits McBride’s melodic gift — Montgomery guitar-like pizzicato solos on the ballad-tempo “Dreaming Trees” and “At Last You’re Here,” and the bowed refrain on the Katrina meditation “Is This America?” Sanchez, meanwhile, is everywhere, “burning” softly with his brushwork on the ballads, shifting from rock to reggae on “The Red One,” playing cymbals and skins in cross-rhythms, like different voices in a chorus — not 16 players, maybe, but at least two or three.

The tunes vary from the shuffle swing inspired by the famous Kansas City organ-trio guitarist of Metheny’s Missouri youth, Calvin Keys, to the edgy 6/8 workout of “When We Were Free,” those folk-pop reveries, and the unabashed power chords of “The Red One.” “Is This America?” is more mournful than angry, acoustic rather than electric, and it favors a quiet country shuffle rather than a NOLA second line. It sounds almost like a basic I-IV-V progression. “It’s a little more than that — basically it’s the same melody with three different sets of chords for the three A sections and the B section functioning as a bridge.” The piece emerged as the band were touring and watching nightly news footage. “It’s rare for me that there’s a literal response to something, an A/B correlation, but that time there was. I agree, it’s not an angry statement, it’s just a question: is that it? Is that really where we are right now? And, sadly, in this time I think the answer speaks for itself.”

Almost as influential as Metheny was in his first flowering is guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who followed him 20-some years later at Berklee and in Gary Burton’s band. The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard, Rosenwinkel’s first album on the Web-based ArtistShare label, is a kind of valedictory. The long-term line-up that played those January 2006 dates included pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Eric Harland; at the Regattabar this weekend, the current Rosenwinkel band will have Aaron Parks, Ben Street, and Obed Calvaire, respectively, in those chairs.

The new band received strong notices for their recent New York appearance — but that doesn’t change what The Remedy achieves. Rosenwinkel is redefining the mainstream much the way Metheny did 30 years ago. Here is tonal, song-based jazz that’s free, loose, swinging, technically accomplished, emotionally warm. It’s an unhurried set — just eight songs over its two discs, four of them passing the 16-minute mark. But the pieces don’t feel long, and neither do the solos. Rosenwinkel proves the pop truth that anything can be a hook — a few chords, a rhythm, any refrain that sets up or satisfies expectation. On the set opener, “Chords,” it is indeed those cycling chords in Goldberg’s hands, the following bass, the 6/8 groove, and the melody that Rosenwinkel laces over it. On the title track, it’s an abstracted tango rhythm.

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