Jazz review: Kurt Rosenwinkel at the Musicians Institute


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There was a certain symmetry between Saturday night’s concert by Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Standards Trio at the Musicians Institute and the bustle of the Academy Awards preparing to launch a little over a block away at Hollywood and Highland. Much like Sunday night’s show, whose best picture nominees have a certain backward-looking flair (‘The Help,’ ‘The Artist’ and ‘Midnight in Paris’), Rosenwinkel trafficked in a vintage, deeply swung cool that may be rooted in vintage jazz, but its spirit and drive remained fresh.

Presented as part of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast series, Rosenwinkel is not the sort of modern jazz artist armed with a bank of effects pedals. Instead he lets his guitar speak with a near crystalline clarity, turning the focus on Rosenwinkel’s sleek mix of chords and finger-blurring runs that dovetailed nicely with the show’s location. The Musicians Institute has a reputation for sharpening local guitarists’ fingers --there was at least one gig bag slung on an audience member’s shoulder as he made his way into the room, and odds are he wasn’t alone.


With the room buzzing at near capacity, Rosenwinkel launched into a mid-tempo piece from Paul Chambers’ 1959 album ‘Go’ that started the night with an elegant, easygoing swing. With a thimble-sized microphone at his cheek, Rosenwinkel scatted along with his playing as his fingers glided up and down his fretboard, a potentially distracting addition that for the most part faintly underscored his serpentine melodic path. Backed by young percussion phenom Justin Falkner and bassist Ugonna Okegwo, Rosenwinkel cycled through an array of tastefully propulsive ideas as the song gathered intensity atop the rhythm section’s compact, insistent foundation.

After a nimble but mannered take on Thelonious Monk’s ‘Ruby, My Dear,’ the trio took a welcome uptempo turn with Clare Fischer’s ‘Pensativa,’ a fitting tribute to the recently passed pianist with a tumbling solo by Okegwo coloring the song’s clockwork, Latin-tinged shuffle. Playfully introduced by Rosenwinkel only as ‘Something,’ a piece midway through the set marked an expressive high point as it swelled to a raw, nearly unhinged crescendo that had the guitarist rocking through pinched, off-balance chords while Okegwo and Falkner accelerated nearly to escape velocity before the song feathered back to Earth.

A knotty, head-bobbing take on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Fall’ gave way to a swift, straight-ahead run through the Cole Porter standard ‘Just One of Those Things,’ which found Rosenwinkel unleashing a spiral of notes behind a steady swing. It was punctuated by Falkner’s electric rolls across his kit that gathered into a solo that burst from the stage like an uncoiled spring. The night’s set list may have been looking backward, but Rosenwinkel’s trio never stopped moving forward.


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-- Chris Barton