02/26/2006

Kurt Rosenwinkel @ U.Va. (Part 1: Friday)

This might well have been the best weekend I have ever spent here at U.Va. And this just might well be the best weekend I will ever spend here. I attended three events in two days where I had opportunity to listen to one of the most inspiring musicians out there today: Kurt Rosenwinkel.

If you live in Charlottesville and are interested in music at all, or any kind of creative art, that is to say, anything truly human, and you did not come to the New Music Ensemble concert Friday night, pray tell: what on earth were you doing?

It made absolutely no sense to me that that event was free of charge. For such beautiful, grand, ambitious works of music that I was fortunate to listen to that night, I would have easily payed 50 dollars, nay, 150 dollars. It was that good.

That John D'earth, the U.Va. professor who directs the Jazz Ensemble and leads the Free Bridge Quintet, is an awesome trumpeter, quite many people know. But that he is also one of the most innovative, intelligent, and genre-daring composers of our day, ought to be known much more widely than it is now.

Silent Faustus, which opened up the concert with the acclaimed chamber group, Kandinsky Trio, is D'earth's own adaptation of the same work originally composed for F. W. Murnau's 1926 silent film, Faustus. I did not know that a trio could sound with such power, grandeur, and intensity, bringing forth the vast scale of the legend.

D'earth's mastery of arrangement technique is astonishing: despite himself being a jazz trumpeter, he knows how to do things with the strings. The work easily transcends the category of film-music. I particularly liked the part towards the Act III (I think), where Faust recollects his one true love, Gretchen. A sweet, pining melody is first played by the cello, then by the violin, while the piano accompanies with an intense and cold shower of chords.

But of course the highlight of the night was Natural Bridge, a suite piece for chamber trio, acoustic bass, and jazz guitar, where Kurt Rosenwinkel was featured. It is "an attempt to combine the languages and procedures of two different musical worlds: classical/contemporary chamber music and waht is inadequately referred to as "jazz"" (program note).

And when D'earth says this, he doesn't have in his mind, for example, the one-directional absorption of jazz into classical music which composers like Ravel attempted (as beautiful and successful as his works are). Nor does he mean mere arranging of classical piece into jazz instruments, like Coltrane's adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. He means the total integration and free interaction of these two genres, which results in a phenomenal work of art whose power and beauty completely defy categorization.

"Perhaps one discovers, as this cobination is explored," D'earth writes, "that these two musical worlds are not so very different, after all; that they invite each other in and, by reciprocal influence, suggest new directions and possibilities."

You have probably heard of some would-be "fusion" works that attempt to break down the wall between "the classical" and "the jazz," resulting in rather uncomfortably mingled pieces of music that does justice to neither genre. Such an attempt is bound to fail, for one sole reason--that there is really no wall separating these genres in the first place. To see this rather natural truth of "music," however, requires a very high degree of musical knowledge, affinity, creativity, and freedom. And John D'earth possesses these qualities. This work is absolutely amazing. It's a full-course of world music. Poly-rhythm, free-style improvisation, blues, scherzo... everything is fair game.

Let me here at least begin to talk about the guitarist. Kurt Rosenwinkel is probably the greatest jazz musician who is able to sing his instrument. The guitar and his body are one during the performance, and the melodies flow one after another with such beauty and elegance. His virtuosity is just the kind that does not condescendingly shows of its virtuosity, but takes the audience's mind away into a different world of musical ideas where his mind dwells.

The notes played in his sweet clean tone are raindrops, as it were, that sometimes fall quietly, sometimes drop with gentle weight, and still other times cascade and create misty atmosphere, upon the billowing surface of water that is the accompanying strings instruments and the piano. Kurt Rosenwinkel seemed to be just the kind of guitarist whose voice is called for by this magnificently ambitious work (although the works was not originally written for him). I sincerely hope they would record this some time soon, which will definitely be the beginning of a new phase for the history of both classical and jazz music.

Such a night, where I was able to sit down at the very front row and listen to the sparks of those absolute artistic geniuses, has never been, and will not come so often in the future.

Event page (McIntire Dept. of Music at U.Va.)
Kandinsky Trio homepage
Kurt Rosenwinkel Official Web Site

(to be continued to Part II: Saturday)

Current music: The Cloister, from "Deep Song" (Kurt Rosenwinkel)


posted by Yuuki at 14:18 | Comment(0) | TrackBack(1) | On Art
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