(Original publication in El Corso )
It is strange for any festival to repeat artists from one year to the other.
However, the Barcelona International Jazz Festival did it this season,
pulling American guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s arm to make him come back
on the 18th of November to the Mediterranean city, that dresses up in jazz
every fall. An there is not a single doubt that the Festival was right, as in
this new edition of the festival there was not a single eco left from last
year’s concert with the Matosinhos Jazz Orchestra.
The cold tries to get to Barcelona. But it is not the right time yet. Instead, it is the
Jazz Festival the one who arrives. It spreads around, conquering venues all over
the city from the 26th of September until the 11th of December. The International
promoted every year by the Voll Damm beer (there is always beer around when
jazz appears) repeats this year a one of the big names, and that makes it even
more impressive that it is the second time in a row in Barcelona.
Kurt Rosenwinkel comes flying from Berlin, where he teaches music at The Jazz
Institute. This time, unlike last one, the guitarist from Philadelphia appears alone
on the stage, in the Sala 2 at the Barcelona L’Auditori. Or maybe not that alone.
His guitar and a bunch of sound systems surround him. Amplifiers, synthesizers,
mixers. A keyboard, an iPad playing the role of the lectern, the illuminated apple
on his MacBook, on the table, buried in cables.
Quite an interesting staging. Nearly mystic? All his electronic tools create a circle
around a chair, still empty. It reminds of an altar, quite a similar to a pagan
sanctuary, ready for a ritual in the middle of a forest. The waiting has turned into
a state of trance, and the dark blue lights projected on the walls feed the oneiric
He gets in dressed in large trousers, black trainers, a clear shirt. Rabid applauses.
He smiles. Good vibrations. He looks at the guitar. Caresses it. She speaks… and
so does him. He accompanies her, sings with her. Low, very low, nearly
imperceptible, nearly as if it were a tic. But the microphone betrays the intimacy
of that personal chant, not meant to be public. Curiously, the projection of that
canticle, that soft and warm murmur, sounds spectacular.
The voice united to the guitar’s weep comes from the moment Rosenwinkel
decided to give a turn in his artistic production, due to a crisis he had in the
middle of his career. He felt disconnected, separated from music and he decided
to turn around what he was doing. Changed the tuning of his guitar and started
to add his voice to it. From that twist Zhivago was born, part of the album The
Next Step, which would soon become one of the most acclaimed in his carreer.
Maybe he felt more himself that way?
It looks like it, indeed. It could even be smelled. And to that, the illumination in
L’Auditori has to be added. As sublime as always, it changes and surrounds the
musician in a spiritual way after every tune.
That voice at ground level, next to the guitar and the games of echoes,
repetitions, reverberations. The conversations among synthesizers, amplifiers
and keyboard grow longer. Minutes go bye, hours go by, and Rosenwinkel links
Imaginary friend, State of the heart, the Ugly Beauty of Thelonious Monk.
Fingers are quick, very high technique level. No stress. Now he plays the initial
melody. Touch on the iPad and… surprise, notes repeat themselves. And go on.
And go on. And he starts to play on them. Five tunes are on –quite long, by the
way- and he is not even tired, as while he starts making the guitar moan with one
hand, with the other he caresses the keyboard. He leaves its howls go on and on
repeating themselves and he goes back, with all his concentration, to the chords
of his self-tuning guitar.
And he goes on like that, moving his hands as if they were tentacles, from the
keyboard to the iPad, from the iPad to the keyboard, from the keyboard to the
chords, from the chords to the iPad and so on. He swings a little bit. He stands up.
He closes his yes. He has got a tic and his eyebrows are constantly moving. But at
the very beginning, still when there has been not enough time to react, those
nervous movements fool the mind and it looks like he moves all his forehead
following the rhythm of the melodies he weaves.
A concert that has nothing to do with the one Rosenwinkel plays next to his
band, the Rosenwinkel that was in Barcelona during the last edition of the Jazz
Festival, that completely filled the Barts venue in Barcelona, playing with all the
energy of his Matosinhos Jazz Orchestra.
The concert finishes. He leaves, and the applauses drag him back on the stage.
Before he starts playing, before he picks up the guitar once more, he talks about
the terrorist attacks on the 13th of November in Paris. He talks about a friend of
his that he has there, and reproduces a conversation:
–Man, this world is crazy.
-I know, I know… It’s terrible.
–What can we do?
-Well mate… I guess play well!
Maybe Kurt will have to find something else to do in order to fix the world, as he
already does play well. Very well.