WBGO Radar

Renee Rosnes: Written In The Rocks

Renee Rosnes, Written In The Rocks, Jazz, Vocalist

If I wanted to be a great writer, I would make a deal with the devil to be able to tell a story the way Renee Rosnes does when she sits at the piano. The absolute gift she has for pianistic expression has played out on her own recordings, with family tree, Bill Evans, love, loss, joy and her sense memory as some of the storylines. With her significant contributions as a member of the SFJazz Collective, she has added chapters to the tales of John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. She toured the world reminiscing, with music and stories, on tenor giant Joe Henderson. After witnessing a performance, one reviewer commented, "the piano was scarcely large enough to contain her imagination." Another observed, " if you looked closely, you would swear you saw steam rising from the piano at the Village Vanguard."

Steam. Or perhaps a butterfly. Renee can conjure both images with ease.

By her own admission, Rosnes always does it with a little help from her friends.

The friends who gathered around to help tell her latest story, "Written In The Rocks" include vibraphonist Steve Nelson, saxophonist / flutist Steve Wilson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Bill Stewart. Their subject is the wondrous sweep of the natural world, capturing with awe, the evolution of life on Earth.

The 9 selections are anchored by the 7 part "Galapagos Suite", named for the island chain that inspired Darwin's theory of evolution.

Although not as old as Galapagos, the musical relationships here have been growing for decades, allowing for what Renee says is a "focused sound and palette of colors and rhythms" to paint the musical landscapes Rosnes shares from her love of the natural surroundings of her childhood in the Pacific Northwest of Canada.

"KT Boundary" introduces a new beginning, a clean slate of sorts, to reveal the pianist's freshness and optimism, surrounded by Wilson's enthusiastic sax lines.

The joy of "Galapagos", just like Darwin, anticipates the ensuing exploration. With bounding energy, Renee's piano dance excites Nelson's vibes, Wilson's flute, Washington's fleeting bass and Stewart's rhythms, invoking most geophysicists to exclaim, "Damn! That's the way I should've explained it."

On "So Simple A Beginning", the butterfly comes out, takes a look and responds, with the majestic piano giving us a look as well, with  Nelson's vibes, Wilson's flute and some colorful bass from Washington.

This much color on a suit wouldn't work. But in the hands of Rosnes and her tailors, "Lucy From Afar" is a fast fashioned piece inspired by one of our first ancestors to walk on two legs, and then, in my mind, engage in an all-out run after discovering the ability to move.

On the title track, the piano / vibe duet introduction leads to a gorgeous quiet journey, reminding us to STOP! Look what's written in the rocks.

There are other reminders. "From Here To A Star" feels like a late night look up at the heavens, with a melody built on the harmony of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is The Ocean." The build to a 4/4 blues swinger allows for plenty of gazing.

How deep is this record? The depth at which Renee Rosnes and friends express her story in majestically, always swinging fashion demands many visits. Renee visits Morning Jazz at WBGO Thursday, February 4th at 9AM, to chat about her new record which comes out the next day, the kickoff to a weekend of celebration at Smoke in New York.


Gary Walker / Morning Jazz

Checkout more WBGO Radar...