Live and on record

By JON GARELICK  |  November 4, 2009

Over the past decade, Kurt Rosenwinkel has produced one album after another of original material, much of it steering the way for the next generation of jazz kids trying to figure out how to absorb the pop they grew up with into the original jazz they want to make. In the process, he’s become the jazz-guitar god of his generation (he turned 39 on October 28). On his new trio album with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Eric Harland, Reflections (Word of Mouth, due November 7), he turns to all standards — from the opening Monk track to a couple by Wayne Shorter (“Fall” and “Ana Maria”) and one very-standard-sounding Rosenwinkel original, “East Coast Love Affair.” And you can hear why sometimes the content is in the technique — Rosenwinkel fashions long architectonic structures with a fluid mix of chording and single-note phrases, unpredictable rhythmic patterns, and a wealth of detail as he digs into every corner of a tune’s harmonies.

But aside from a few double-time passages, the CD is a subdued, ballad-tempo affair (“reflective”). At the Regattabar on October 8 — the second of four shows over two nights — the flurries of oblique chordings and single-note runs came at a furious pace, full-toned and aggressive. Rosenwinkel, with Revis and drummer Rodney Green, took the notion of “straight-ahead” to the max, Revis digging big thumping walking figures out of his strings (and taking a couple of grunt-laced solos), Green a hurricane of beats and colors, not one cymbal stroke out of place and yet so satisfyingly in your face.

The repertoire ran through Miles Davis’s “Boplicity,” Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” Golson’s “Along Came Betty,” Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity,” and an encore of Carl Fischer & Bill Carey’s ballad “You’ve Changed” — that last being the only tune from the new album. Here were all those exercises, all those speed lessons, transformed into real music. “Boplicity” took on true melodic shape in the midst of Rosenwinkel’s abstractions, and the changes of “Stablemates” were always felt in the subtext, even as Rosenwinkel ate up those changes and turned lines of eighth and 16th notes into molten silvery strands. The landscape was familiar, reassuring, even as it was strange, enchanting. Yes, we know this place, but where are we, exactly?

Rosenwinkel was the picture of geek chic — short-sleeve black T-shirt over blue open-collar dress shirt, gray jeans, sneakers, a little gray-blue people’s worker hat, big aviator-shaped black-rimmed glasses, a shadowy wisp of moustache and goatee. Before “Dexterity,” he turned to Green: “Not too fast, please.” Yeah, right.

If the beauty of the Kurt Rosenwinkel trio is how much they can play without it being too much, the beauty of the quartet Go Home is how much they can do with so little. Go Home were put together by clarinettist Ben Goldberg — known for his work in the unclassifiable Berkeley chamber group Tin Hat — to play his compositions. They like grooves, backbeats, shuffles, and blues and minor keys. On Go Home (on his own BAG Productions), Goldberg is joined by guitarist Charlie Hunter, trumpeter Ron Miles, and drummer Scott Amendola. At the Regattabar October 27, former Jazz Passenger trombonist Curtis Fowlkes replaced Miles.

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