Among his generation of jazz musicians, Kurt Rosenwinkel has to be the most beloved guitarist. Chalk it up to his originality: He's set trends among his peers with ideas about harmony and form, and he's created an easily recognizable playing style on an instrument where individuality is rare in mainstream jazz. Nearly two years after making his latest recording live at the Village Vanguard (the two-disc set The Remedy), he returned to the scene of the crime. The Kurt Rosenwinkel quartet played the Vanguard in a live broadcast, heard on air at WBGO and online at NPR Music, and available for download on this page. (The second, unaired set is also available for streaming and download.)
The night was filled with precise, urgent modern jazz. Rosenwinkel chose nearly all originals (the one exception being a tune from his pianist Aaron Parks' latest album), leaving plenty of time for long solo narratives and changing rhythm-section interplay. Some swung mightily ("Our Secret World," "Zhivago"), while others were more open and slower to develop ("Path of the Heart" and a new, untitled number).
And when he took his own turn, he played expansive solos, awash in legato fluidity and accented by the occasional distortion, slight overdrive or sustain effect. During the soundcheck, he set up several effects pedals, and then got up: "You know, after all this, it still sounds like a guitar," he said.
Rosenwinkel had a different band with him than he did on The Remedy; he lost longtime collaborator Mark Turner, temporarily sidelined by an injury, but he does pick up a new rhythm section. Pianist Aaron Parks is at the tip of critics' tongues after his new record surfaced on many year-end Top 10 lists; veteran bassist Ben Street has played with Rosenwinkel for many years; and Kendrick Scott has spent the last few years founding his own record label when not playing with Terence Blanchard or his own group.
Raised in jazz-rich Philadelphia, Rosenwinkel studied at Berklee College of Music at a time when many of today's leading jazz lights were his classmates. But he dropped out to tour with vibraphonist Gary Burton, at the time the school's dean. Not long afterward, Rosenwinkel moved to New York, where he quickly established a reputation as a distinctive voice on his instrument. Toward the end of the '90s, he became one of the few mainstream jazz artists signed to a major label, eventually recording four albums for Verve Records.
Though now living in Berlin and distributing his music under the ArtistShare business model, Rosenwinkel still plays several New York gigs every year. In fact, in light of his new recording, his reputation at the Vanguard may loom as large as ever. Most recently, he played the Vanguard with Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band in June 2008 — another concert broadcast and archived by NPR Music and WBGO.
- "Our Secret World" (Rosenwinkel)
- "Peaceful Warrior" (Parks)
- "A Shifting Design" (Rosenwinkel)
- "Path of the Heart" (Rosenwinkel)
- "Untitled [New]" (Rosenwinkel)
- "Zhivago" (Rosenwinkel)
- Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar
- Aaron Parks, piano
- Ben Street, bass
- Kendrick Scott, drums
- Josh Jackson, producer and host
- David Tallacksen, mix engineer
- Josh Webb, recording assistant