PHILADELPHIA-BORN, Berlin-resident jazz guitarist/keyboardist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s career is especially associated with influential artists such as Gary Burton, Paul Motion, Brad Mehldau and Chris Potter. So the sunshiny, vocal emphasis of his new release Caipi comes as something of a surprise. Yet it’s a surprise which prompts fascination, increasing endearment and positivity.
Rosenwinkel suggests that it’s taken a decade to make this album a reality – and whilst it’s very much a solo album (the composer playing guitars, bass, piano, synth and drums throughout, and also occasionally taking lead vocal), he also welcomes a number of guests to provide a panoply of textures, including appearances from saxophonist Mark Turner and vocalist/lyricist Amanda Brecker. There’s even a subtle cameo from Eric Clapton, who describes Rosenwinkel as “a genius – he really is”; and the album’s decidedly effervescent South American flavours (‘Caipirinha’ being a Brazilian/Portuguese cocktail) are enhanced by the intriguing vocal timbres of young Brazilian singer/instrumentalist Pedro Martins.
This full hour’s eleven-track diversity might initially be perplexing, especially for fans of the guitarist’s instrumental-jazz back catalogue. But it doesn’t take long to warm to the naive frailty of Pedro Martins’ gentle voice; and though Rosenwinkel’s straight vocal delivery may be reminiscent of ’70s prog instrumentalists who came from behind the frontman’s shadows to sing for their own solo projects, it’s these constantly fluctuating points of difference, plus a tangible homely quality, which attracts. The background to this bold, intentional move is explained thus: “Writing songs with lyrics has always been very much a part of musical world, but they’ve usually stayed in my private sphere. With Caipi, I realised that these were also lyric songs and that ultimately I would sing them as well. It’s definitely something different from my other albums, but it’s a familiar place for me and it was just a matter of doing what the music needed”.
A sultry bossa nova influence is there from the opening of the title track, its wordless backing vocals and flute-voiced synth redolent of Pat Metheny or The Isley Brothers, with Rosenwinkel’s electric guitar improv reaching up to an azure sky; and Martins’ tremulant falsetto sails across the gently bass-driven gossamer-sustained layers of Kama. The contrasting pop chirpiness of Casio Vanguard and Summer Song quirkily recall the pop-jingle of ’80s band Johnny Hates Jazz, though brimming with invention and detail, whilst Methenyesque Chromatic B‘s babbling electric bass underpins its Latin piano-and-guitar pulse. Shadows-style riffs support Rosenwinkel’s affirming vocal in purposeful Hold On (“…and you know we’re not alone”); and the folksy tenderness of Ezra, dedicated to his youngest son, is similarly uplifting (“live each day with joy and laughter”) as Mark Turner’s tenor sax extemporises broadly over a mid-rock groove.
By now, it’s possible you’ll be hooked… only to discover Rosenwinkel still has four more appealing numbers to deliver – Little Dream and Casio Escher (both embellished by Amanda Brecker’s vocal dexterity), bossa shuffler Interspace and anthemically-closing Little B. An album which is both curious and distinctive, it leaves a beautiful impression of radiance and hope, and is described by its creator as “angels working for the light”.
Kurt Rosenwinkel acoustic guitar, nylon guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, drums, percussion, synth, Casio, voice
Pedro Martins voice, synth, harmonium, drums, floor tom
Frederika Krier violin
Andi Haberl drums
Antonio Loureiro voice
Alex Kozmidi baritone guitar
Kyra Garéy voice
Mark Turner tenor sax
Amanda Brecker voice
Eric Clapton guitar
Zola Mennenöh voice
Chris Komer French horn
RazDaz Recordz / Heartcore Records – RD4618 (2016)