In addition to recognition among modern jazz's most talented guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel has earned a reputation as a thoughtfully skilled interpreter of jazz standards. This stirring release should deservedly elevate his status to even higher levels as bassist Dario Deidda and drummer Gregory Hutchinson add punch and precision to every piece. Rosenwinkle revisits classic compositions from six of jazz's most recognized talents, and adds a pair of new songs. While traditional purists may have issues with the transfer of more subdued piano or horn based themes into a ringing, electric guitar-based format, there should be no denying that this record is well worth repeated listens. Most of the songs are revisited in a style similar to the originals; there are a few tasty tweaks in tone or timing but no tune is altered beyond clear recognition.
"Ugly Beauty" by Thelonious Monk is an easy-rolling stretch of slick picking over cloudy chords. The rhythm section stretches out the waltz-like stanzas dreamily enough to imagine each player hovering in the clouds and sticking to the original version's spirit while smoothing-over bits of its challenging incongruity. It is a complicated aesthetic, and impossible to say whether Monk would approve or not. We do.
"Ease It" by Paul Chambers swings with crisp, hard bop licks and demonstrates group dexterity through distinct layers of individual instrumentation. Production settings seem to sandwich guitar tones between layers of bass and drums in a different tonal structure to most other recordings. Joe Henderson's "Punjab" brings more swings to the turntable over lead bass lines which emphasize the depth of Deidda's semi-acoustic ax. "Self Portrait in Three Colors" slows things down and adds fresh emotion to the Charles Mingus song with intricate guitar spirals over the smooth chord structure. Purposely intended or not, the song's title and inclusion offer a clear picture of how this band achieves what a jazz trio should sound like.
There is nothing simple about the heavy six-string spirals in "Simple #2," the record's longest track (9:48) and well worthy of the time. Deidda kicks back a notch while composer Rosenwinkel soars through various leading licks and motifs over a rocking foundation of abstract, blues-based bombast. Hutchinson's ever changing light touch is the perfect topping. "Time Remembered" by Bill Evans gets revitalized in an echoing treatment which upbeats the original's melancholy majesty. Purists may be disappointed, but it is a wonderful re-imagination.
Thick bass opens "Angels Around" to wind the record up very well. A deep, looping refrain and crashing cymbals lift off as Deidda's composition takes flight with heavy wings of vibrato and fuzz tone effects over a beat that resounds like a hammer of the guitar gods. This closing cut confirms the album as one of the best guitar-based efforts to arise this year. Throughout the record are echoing reminders of mini-classics by the Ginger Baker trio that featured Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell, an exceptionally high standard which Rosenwinkel's group matches often while forging a sound much their own. Deidda frolics through numerous well-applied solo segments while Hutchinson maintains flawless beats and flourishes.
Rosenwinkel has undoubtably assembled a prime unit here. Added as a grand finale on the official release, "Passarim" by late Brazilian icon Antonio Carlos Jobim, is listed as a bonus track. Perhaps that designation can be considered something of a misnomer. On this record, just about every cut should be considered a bonus.
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