Kurt Rosenwinkel

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Kurt Rosenwinkel - This Is Heartcore
Kurt Rosenwinkel - 'Kurt Rosenwinkel - This Is Heartcore' image
It's chaos right now for Kurt Rosenwinkel. He has delivered Heartcore, his third album for Verve, and now he's trying to figure out how to recreate in the live setting a studio record that took him two-and-a-half years and three blown deadlines to make. To up the ante, he only has a couple of weeks before record's release party and the subsequent tour. "I'm working overtime right now," says Rosenwinkel from his Brooklyn recording studio/apartment. "Rehearsing my band, getting these keyboards to sound like organic instruments. It's hard to do, but it's getting easier."

While Jazz musicians are not typically studio gearheads on the same level as electronic or certain rock artists, Rosenwinkel dove headfirst into this world at the beginning of Heartcore, taking his entire recording budget and spending it on a high quality home studio with all the bells and whistles.

"The world of gear is not unknown to me, but I was way out of my league," he confesses. "So I had innumerable technical issues. The learning curve was extremely steep because all these different components have been brought together at once. For example, I had never worked with digital audio."

This tech conversation is not what one would expect from an artist who won a Composer's Award from the National Endowment For The Arts in 1995; nor from one who is considered by many to be the heir to the Jazz guitar throne now occupied by Pat Metheny and John Scofield.

And it's even surprising by Rosenwinkel standards; while the guitarist feels that his music is all part of the same piece of creative fabric, for this album, he sampled the players of his regular quartet and arranged their parts as he saw fit. It's a long way away from the standard Jazz quartet recordings of 2001's excellent Next Step or 2000's promising The Enemies Of Energy.

Many Jazz albums, like the latter two, are recorded live in the studio, with a minimum of overdubs, no pro-tools programming, and few (if any) extra takes of the songs. Heartcore, however, is a different beast altogether — one that fuses cutting-edge studio technology with a Jazz musician's aesthetic. Long, winding guitar figures are played over interwoven drum loops; keyboard melodies float over swirling synthesizer string sections; clarinet solos somehow sit comfortably next to dreamy wordless vocals more suited for trip-hop.

Like many Jazz musicians, Rosenwinkel is an unabashed fan of Radiohead, but the instrumental music on the new album is closer to Chicago Underground or Tortoise — although Rosenwinkel didn't know it at the time. "Even though my good friend [and former roommate] Jeff Parker plays [guitar] in Tortoise, I hadn't heard much of their music," he explains. "It wasn't until another friend heard my album and hipped me to those bands that I really checked them out. Chicago Underground, Sigur Rós — I was sort of blissfully ignorant of what they do."

Far from the guitarist's attempt to reshape modern rock, Heartcore is actually Rosenwinkel's reaction to his earlier albums. He was once part of a scene of young musicians who played Small's, the now-defunct West Village Jazz club; much of the acoustic Jazz of his previous albums was written for, and performed in, that intimate room. But he ran into problems when he tried to take the music into other spaces.

"Basically, I wanted to make music that would create a spell in a room that's bigger [than Small's]. I'm looking for the feeling of the room lifting off the ground. It happened at Small's, but the older music didn't cast the right spell in other rooms."

Of course, deciding to make changes and actually executing them are two different things. Rosenwinkel started work on the album in the beginning of 2001. During the early months, the guitarist spent about 70 percent of his music-making time solving technical issues surrounding the interface of instruments, hardware and software — clicks and pops would appear out of nowhere and equipment would simply refuse to work. Fortunately, he was frequently able to clear his head by grabbing his guitar and going out on the road.

"The record was taking up a lot of real estate in my head," says Rosenwinkel, his voice taking on a pained tone. "I knew it would end, but I didn't know when. And that was scary. The thing about recording it myself was that I didn't have to stop, and I knew that I wouldn't stop until I could play it for somebody and sit there as they listened to it, not thinking to myself that I should change that part, or that this needs to be different. It's a terrible feeling to play your music for someone and hear things not in the music that should be."

Unlike past efforts, Rosenwinkel didn't have three other musicians in the studio with him all the time to bounce ideas off of — but he did have A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip as a patron saint and co-producer. Rosenwinkel had been friends with the Hip- Hop legend for a few years and is now a full member of Q-Tip's working group, which is putting the final touches on the rapper's next album.

"There's been this really mutual exchange between our worlds," Rosenwinkel says of the relationship. "I'm in his band working on his music, being totally involved in his process. And he's totally involved with my record." So when the studio demons became too great, it was Q-Tip to the rescue, offering words of encouragement and constructive criticism.

It may seem odd to find a guitarist of Rosenwinkel's stature and history backing a Hip-Hop artist. But can't it simply be a sign of the times? Rosenwinkel thinks so.

"We're all living in today — Jazz musician or not. This is the 21st century. Cats are not ignorant of the modern ways of making music. The Jazz musicians I know have an open mind and method. That, to me, is what being a Jazz musician is. Charlie Parker and all those people were into a lot of different kinds of music. They were investigating; they couldn't get enough of any kind of music and that's the way people I work with are now."

He may still struggle to meet his deadlines, but there is no doubt that Kurt Rosenwinkel knows what time it is and where he needs to be. And right now, that's Heartcore.
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