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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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."

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