Now to a jazz guitarist known for innovative compositions and improvisations. He is Kurt Rosenwinkel. On his latest release called "Reflections," he breaks from all that and turns his attention to standards.

Our critic Tom Moon has a review.

TOM MOON: For the last decade or so, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has been on a tear, writing and recording intense, challenging original music for small jazz groups. His pieces are decidedly unusual. They're flecked with strange harmonies and abrupt changes of mood. And they're held together by oddly beautiful melodies.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: Rosenwinkel has cultivated his following by bucking tradition. So I was a bit dismayed to learn about his latest project. It's a set of mostly familiar ballads and jazz standards - the kind of program expected from tradition-minded jazz musicians. It seemed Rosenwinkel was following the conventional path. Then I heard this:

(Soundbite of song, "Reflections")

MOON: The tune is "Reflections" by Thelonious Monk. Usually, it's treated as a kind of sacred text. Rosenwinkel doesn't play it that way. There's a hint of restlessness in his approach, like he's determined to find an entirely new language for it.

(Soundbite of song, "Reflections")

MOON: Rosenwinkel says that after recording lots of his own music, six albums over the last decade, he felt it was time to return to the jazzman's standard repertoire, first to gauge how he's evolved as a player and then to explore how he might change up and possibly radicalize these familiar tunes. He did this old-school style, with minimal preparation: He and his rhythm section played just two gigs before going into the studio.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: And Rosenwinkel seized on tunes that hotshot jazzers rarely attempt, including Wayne Shorter's "Ana Maria," with its fluid melody and heartbreaking chord sequence.

(Soundbite of song, "Ana Maria")

MOON: What I hear in this is someone who's thinking like a composer, shaping a musical narrative one carefully considered phrase at a time. It's a fundamentally different enterprise from the daredevil high-speed babble that usually happens when jazz musicians play standards. They're out to stun with genius technique. Rosenwinkel, a composer first and foremost, wants to illuminate the architectural soul of the tunes instead.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: That's our reviewer Tom Moon. The new album from the Kurt Rosenwinkel "Standards" trio is called "Reflections."

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from