Heartcore – 2003
Verve – Catalog #B000073202
Release Date: 08/12/2003
Kurt Rosenwinkel could be forgiven for sticking to straight jazz. After all, since vibraphonist Gary Burton plucked him out of the Berklee School of Music in 1991, the 32-year-old guitarist has toured and recorded with some of the great names in the field, including Joe Henderson, Paul Motian and Joe Lovano. He has appeared on over fifty records with dozens of artists, and is mentioned in the same breath as groundbreaking guitarists Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and John Scofield.
But with his latest release on Verve Records, Heartcore, Rosenwinkel has deliberately stepped beyond the boundaries of genre to create a new sound that is distinctly his own. “There is a place, musically, that’s above the categories,” he says. “This record – it’s jazz. And it’s much more.”
Tracks : 01 – Heartcore | 02 – Blue Line | 03 – All the Way to Rajasthan | 04 –Your Vision | 05 –Interlude| 06 – Our Secret World | 07 – Dream_Memory| 08 – Love in the Modern World | 09 – DCBA | 10 – Thought About You | 11 – Tone Poem
Kurt Rosenwinkel : guitar, percussion, drums, keyboards, programming, vocals, producer, engineer, guitar (classical), mixing; Mark Turner : sax (tenor), clarinet (bass); Ethan Iverson : piano, keyboards; Ben Street : acoustic bass; Jeff Ballard : drums; Andrew d’Angelo : clarinet (bass); Mariano Gil : flute
Since landing in New York in 1991, Rosenwinkel has established a singular voice as a writer and improviser. He has a knack for combining soaring, romantic melodies with angular, unsettling harmonies, and for penning extended compositions that sound like Cole Porter tunes refracted through some strange cubist prism. Throughout the 90s, Rosenwinkel incubated this sound in tiny Manhattan clubs, working with a quartet that features Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Jeff Ballard (drums), and Ben Street (bass). The group’s regular Tuesday-night gigs at Smalls in Greenwich Village are legendary, and its sound was captured on Rosenwinkel’s first two Verve releases, The Enemies of Energy (2000) and The Next Step (2001).
But Rosenwinkel found that what worked in Smalls didn’t necessarily translate to bigger halls. “We were performing the music from The Next Step, and we were playing in larger spaces: theatres, and big venues,” he recalls. “The music from The Next Step was conceived of to be played in small spaces, like be-bop. You can’t play that stuff in a big room. It’s hard to activate those big spaces, but that’s what I wanted. That’s my beacon – to make the room lift off the ground. And I began imagining a new music to fill those big spaces.”
But what would that new music be? A clue arrived in the form of a bottle of wine, delivered to one of Rosenwinkel’s gigs at the Village Vanguard – an appreciative gift from the legendary hip-hop artist and producer, Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed, most famously of A Tribe Called Quest). The two met soon afterwards, and Rosenwinkel soon realized that hip-hop’s commanding, edgy energy could elevate his own music.
Q-Tip ended up co-producing Heartcore. “From record to record, I’ve always tried to make things more simple, more direct. I’m not trying to make it more complicated,” Rosenwinkel says. “I wanted to have the same kind of immediacy that Q-Tip’s music has. He was always the voice over my shoulder: ‘Keep it simple. Keep it direct.”
What resulted is a collection of 11 original Rosenwinkel compositions that lay his typically elegant melodies over bold and unpredictable underpinnings. From the insistent martial drive of the opening title track, to the echoing chimes of the final cut, Heartcore traverses a musical landscape in which washes of sound surge under melodies, drum machines and synthesizers alternate with shakers and horns, and keening romantic interludes are punctuated by moments of raw bombast. The swaying Eastern rhythms of “Your Vision” break down into meterless underwater cries. The Turkish coffeehouse evoked by “Thought About You” is washed away in the final seconds by a shower of synthesizer bubbles. Even one of the records’ most romantic moments, a flute solo in “Love in the Modern World,” is inexplicably interrupted by a cluster of electronic beeps that epitomize Rosenwinkel’s urge to undercut clarity with uncertainty.
But no matter how strange a given moment of Heartcore may be, each tune remains tethered to something simple and clear, whether a beat, a melody, or a mood. Rosenwinkel may challenge his listeners, but he never forgets they’re there.
It is in this sense that Heartcore draws from hip-hop, where powerful beats are so often deliberately countered by bubbling, mysterious loops and tracks. In fact, says Rosenwinkel, it is in hip-hop that he finds some of the most sophisticated harmonies around. “A lot of the harmonic moments in hip-hop remind me of what I hear in, say, Schoenberg’s music,” he says. “He’ll create a chord that is very much dependent on the dynamics of the performance – the strings are mezzo piano, the oboe is mezzo forte, and the piccolos are piano piano. Together they produce a harmony that might not work in jazz theory, but works perfectly in reality. You hear the same things in a hip-hop mix. It’s all in the ear – something works because it sounds like it works,” he continues. “Those kind of lessons are very important for the jazz musician. It’s a great antidote for the pedagogical, theoretical school of jazz.”
And it should surprise no one that Rosenwinkel is reaching beyond traditional jazz for inspiration. While he cites the influence of many jazz greats – Allan Holdsworth for his technique, Wynton Kelly for his swing, Keith Jarrett for his connection to the muse – he is just as quick to point to FM stalwarts like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, or modern artists in pop or hip-hop. “Today, it’s Radiohead – when I heard Kid A, I was like, ‘Ahh-that’s it!’” he says. “And Jay-Dee (the hip-hop producer) he’s creating at a very high level. I’m always looking.”
Rosenwinkel spent two years producing Heartcore, working out of his home studio in Brooklyn. He laid track after track, cutting and replacing parts and loops until he had what he wanted. “It’s kind of like a layer painting, where you end up with an inch and a half of paint on the canvas,” he says. “The process was the most interesting and varied I’d even been through. I’d sit at home, and tinker around, and take an idea and manipulate it. Two steps forward, one step back. Then one to the right.”
His collaborators included Turner, Ballard and Street, as well as Mariano Gill (flute), Andrew D’Angelo (bass clarinet), and Ethan Iverson (keyboards). Rosenwinkel himself added guitar, bass, acoustic and electronic drums, keyboards, percussion and vocals. Q-Tip helped with the composition and editing, and the whole project depended on the man Rosenwinkel calls “my MVP”: engineer Mike Perez, who kept the stacks of studio gear in synch. “It’s like a high-tech, jimmied spaceship,” says Rosenwinkel with a laugh of his home studio. “The first time I had the Verve people over to listen to tracks, all I got was digital static.”
But the hard work paid off with Heartcore: a unique collection of sonic tapestries that Q-Tip calls “an example of where music needs to go.” Rosenwinkel is nothing but excited. “For about 20 minutes every day, I’d say to myself, ‘Oh my God, what did I get myself into?’” he says. “But I did get to the point where, yes, it’s done, and yes, it’s exactly where I want it to be.”
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