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Published: 2003/09/28
by Ray Hogan

Heartcore – Kurt Rosenwinkel

Verve Records 73202

Jazz musicians who came of age in the 1990s found themselves in a peculiar
era in the music's history. They were the first generation to play the music
in a decade that wasn't associated with a particular school. The
neo-traditionalists owned the 1980s, fusion held sway in the 1970s and one
can trace back all the way to the swing of the 1940s — the first and only
jazz was truly America's popular music.

While not being tied to any rigid way of thinking allows for certain
that allow the music to grow (which, in time, it certainly will), it
has young jazz musicians – those under 40 – scrambling to find the next big
thing. Several serious players who spent the early part of their careers in
the straight-ahead idiom are currently testing new waters. Trumpeter Roy
Hargrove is searching for a modern R & B persona with the RH Factor, and
Nicholas Payton, who up to now was a staunch traditionalist, is trying to
update fusion with Sonic Trance.

Kurt Rosenwinkel was one of the few inspiring jazz guitarists to emerge in
the 1990s. He frequently contributes with the impressive saxophonist Mark
Turner for forward-thinking jazz sessions. Heartcore doesn't just
ahead, it sprints there. Sharing production chores with Q-Tip of A Tribe
Called Quest, the guitarist nearly abandons his past on this atmospheric
electric collection.

All in all, it's a mixed affair. The best tracks on the record showcase
Rosenwinkel as a guitarist of ceaseless fluidity and idea-fueled pursuance.
On "Blue Line," he and Turner prove why their partnership has been so
fruitful. Each lets idea after idea unroll, seemingly oblivious to the
generic funk rhythm behind them. When the song's seven minutes expire, the
listener feels like they've only encountered a fraction of what the two are
capable of, even with such a basic structure. The song suffers from some
misplaced synthesizers but I'll get to that later.

The title track is a similar bright spot. It's formed around a basic, almost
march-like, rhythm that allows for ceaseless invention. Rosenwinkel counters
with pointed, deliberate runs before again locking with Turner for a harmony
lesson. "All the Way to Rajasthan" is cinematic in scope and provides the
platform (no accompanists or distraction) for the guitar player to display
his chops; his jagged riffs hit the precision of bull's eyes.

These highlights are countered by less than inspiring moments. Rosenwinkel
seems too excited with having such creative control (he's credited with
guitar, keyboards, drums and programming) and that excitement often
translates into cheesy synthesizer intrusions and generally bland
soundscapes ("Your Vision" sounds like he and his crew are discovering dated
technology for the first time). There's a useless interlude to split the
disc up and a few of the tracks sound like something you'd hear in that
nature store of the shopping mall. The second half of the disc really trails
off but is redeemed by the closing "Tone Poem," the closest to
straight-ahead playing he and his crew come on this disc.

Jazz is searching for its generational identity right now and many musicians
are looking hard for it. Aside from the pianist Jason Moran, who is getting
very close, none have defined the new thing yet. Rosenwinkel deserves credit
for trying.

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