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What's so good about Kurt Rosenwinkel?
Kurt Rosenwinkel is, in my mind, quite simply one of the most exciting musicians on the current international modern jazz scene.
I first got to see Kurt live in performance in Toronto a couple of years back at Glenn Gould Studio. He and his trio kept the sold-out audience engaged from the first note to the last, and I was left feeling as though I had heard things played on the guitar that I didn't know were possible. His playing is technically impressive, but also extremely musical - while some players just play notes when soloing, Kurt Rosenwinkel creates melodies. Check out his facility on the instrument:
Intro, beginning, middle, end...this is a beautifully crafted performance.
Kurt Rosenwinkel has also made a name for himself as an outstanding composer. His tunes are complex, but maintain the fundamentals of good songwriting: clear melody, complimentary harmony, and emotional connection. In fact, it's a testament to his composing that arrangers have wanted to take his tunes and expand them for ensembles of various sizes. One of his most recent CDs, Our Secret World (released in 2010), features seven arrangements of Kurt's originals performed by the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos in Portugal (with Kurt playing on each track). Here's a clip from the recording session:
I think this clip demonstrates most of the qualities which make Kurt so exciting: great writing, great playing, passion and intensity...he even sings along while playing! What's more, it's great to see Kurt acknowledge the effort of the musicians, saying, "I really felt that everybody was supporting me, supporting the music, and really giving their best. It was a great challenge for them and they rose to the occasion. The spirit that was present during the whole thing was just beautiful.” I also enjoyed reading about Kurt's approach to this big band setting. He says: "You have to figure out how to make yourself the final element that’s going to crest the entire arrangement and unify it. You have to invent the way to take it from here to there. You have to choose your moments, strategize about how to enter and how to exit, with what attitude, in what register. I couldn’t just walk in and play my song as I knew it. It’s a kind of artistry that’s specific to being a soloist with a big band." While some musicians might walk in to the situation and just "do their thing", Kurt, as seems to be the case with any of his musical endeavours, takes it several steps further.
To wrap up, here's a fun clip of Kurt in a combo setting, recorded in an "open rehearsal" setting at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. More insight into Kurt's playing and writing, but also into the musical process which takes a tune from idea to to completion: