First Watch: Kurt Rosenwinkel, 'Casio Vanguard'

Mar 8, 2017
Originally published on March 9, 2017 10:33 am

Kurt Rosenwinkel is a rare bird among guitarists — a lyrical, ethereal improviser whose hyper-fluency has as much to do with color and tone as it does with velocity or touch. This, among other things, has made him one of the most admired and emulated voices of his instrument over the last 20 years. During that time, he has developed working methods that often branch out beyond the usual framework for a jazz musician — a point that his new album, Caipi, draws in vivid relief.

The first thing to know about Caipi is that Rosenwinkel plays most of the instruments on the album; electric and acoustic guitars, piano and synthesizers, electric bass, drums and percussion. He also sings on a number of tracks — and not just in the cool, wordless drift that has long supplemented his guitar lines like a vapor trail. "Lose your fear and take the ride," he urges on "Summer Song," summing up his whole enterprise here.

There's a heavy pop precedent for the one-man-in-the-studio production: Stevie Wonder set the gold standard, with Prince, Paul McCartney and others in the mix. Rosenwinkel laid his own groundwork in that regard more than a dozen years ago: The 2003 album Heartcore was released on Verve but produced in DIY fashion, in a funky home studio in Brooklyn, with a close circle of collaborators.

Heartcore was the sort of album that really grows on you, and a lot of that had to do with Rosenwinkel's aesthetic as a producer and sound sculptor, in a style that drew trace elements from indie-rock, synthpop and ambient hip-hop. (Q-Tip, of A Tribe Called Quest, lend some of his production expertise.) The album didn't sit comfortably within the post-bop tradition, but couldn't possibly have taken shape without it.

For much of the last decade, while teaching at the Jazz-Institut Berlin, Rosenwinkel has been working to extend this personal sound and vision. Caipi does include a handful of cameos — notably by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, one of his close associates, and Eric Clapton, one of his outspoken admirers — but its spirit and much of its texture emanate from Rosenwinkel himself. To illustrate, here is an exclusive video for one track from the album: "Casio Vanguard."

Rosenwinkel is the unmistakable engine on this song, playing all the instruments listed above, as well as the Casio keyboard mentioned in the title. (Supported by vocal backups from Pedro Martins and Antonio Loureiro, and a bit of baritone guitar work from Alex Kozmidi.) The sound points decisively in the direction of Brazil, more specifically to the aesthetic coordinates inhabited in the 1970s by Milton Nascimento. Note how the mood and texture shift for each guitar solo, as if Rosenwinkel is briefly stepping into a deep-hued spotlight.

The colorful animations in the video, which evoke the spirit of Tropicália, are by Chrisse Kunst. "He's an artist from Berlin, and we found him through his artwork being displayed in a hi-fi store that I buy my stereo equipment from," Rosenwinkel explains in an email. "We went to his place and he showed us some film his father took from Brazil in the '70s, which he used in the video. I also sent him some images from the album artwork and photos that he incorporated."

Rosenwinkel will be on tour, playing this music, for the next couple of months; his first stop will be Birdland in New York, from March 14-18. For more dates, visit kurtrosenwinkel.com.

Caipi is due out on Friday, via Razdaz Recordz and Heartcore Records.

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