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‘Kinds of Love’ by Renee Rosnes Review: Finding the Beat of the Pandemic


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The jazz pianist’s new album was conceived during the Covid-19 lockdown, when she was stuck at home instead of touring globally.

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Renee Rosnes

Photo: Shervin Lainez
 

On the cover of her new album, “Kinds of Love” (Smoke Sessions), due Sept. 3, the fashion-forward Renee Rosnes is perched on the arm of a club chair dressed in a striking silver and royal-blue suit. At first glance, the jazz pianist appears to be having a “Green Acres” moment. The chair seems stacked with bales of hay, while the sawdust-toned floor and grainy wood paneling behind her hint at a sleek barn setting.

Not a chance. The chair was designed by Ms. Rosnes’s nephew, Aaron Aujla ; the photo was shot at Green River Project, her nephew’s design studio in New York; and the “hay” is raffia—leaves from an African palm tree that serve as the chair’s upholstery. As for the suit, it was made for Ms. Rosnes by trend-setting designer Emily Adams Bode, who’s engaged to Mr. Aujla.

Married to the celebrated jazz pianist Bill Charlap, Ms. Rosnes has long been an acclaimed pianist in her own right. Known for her forceful and exotically intense music, she has released 19 studio albums as a leader since 1989 and recorded as a sidewoman on many others, including ones by legacy jazz artists such as Little Jimmy Scott, J.J. Johnson and Bobby Hutcherson.

In 2017, she formed Artemis, an all-female, all-star septet that features Ms. Rosnes, clarinetist Anat Cohen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda, drummer Allison Miller and vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant. The supergroup released its first album in 2020 and is planning a second.

“Kinds of Love” was conceived last year, when Ms. Rosnes found herself in Covid-19 lockdown mode rather than touring globally. All nine songs were through-composed by Ms. Rosnes and arranged so her quintet would have room for interpretation.

For her new album, recorded in March and April of this year, Ms. Rosnes was joined by Chris Potter on saxophones, flute and bass clarinet, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Carl Allen and percussionist Rogério Boccato.

“Silk (Dedicated to Donald Brown )” opens with suspenseful percussion and a lurching rhythm before shifting into a hard-bop cooker that captures the despair and uncertainty of Covid-19’s early days. Mr. Brown, a jazz pianist whose nickname is “Silk,” is among Ms. Rosnes’s favorite composers.

Two of the album’s ballads were inspired by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim : The title song was written while Ms. Rosnes imagined Jobim at the piano singing. Her piano sensitively reflects the husky vulnerability of Jobim’s voice and tenderness of his melodies.

“Life Does Not Wait (A Vida Não Espera)” is a lyric line from Jobim’s song “Olha Maria.” The title’s English translation sums up our powerlessness during the pandemic. Mr. Potter’s yearning soprano saxophone solo rekindles the adrift feel.

A captivating bird call heard by Ms. Rosnes in her backyard last year became the basis for “In Time Like Air,” the album’s prettiest and most hypnotic song. As Mr. Boccato’s percussion and Mr. Allen’s drums shimmer, Mr. Potter on flute and Ms. Rosnes on piano play in unison to echo the tweet’s clipped melody. Mr. Potter added a tenor saxophone solo, and Ms. Rosnes and Mr. Boccato overdubbed an airy vocal background to give the song the feeling of flight.

Though Ms. Rosnes sang in school growing up, her beautiful vocalizing here marks the first time her singing has appeared on a recording. The decision wasn’t an ego trip. Given the album’s tight budget, the do-it-yourself approach was Ms. Rosnes’s only recourse.

“The Golden Triangle” is a perky swinger named for the New York basement speakeasy shaped like an isosceles triangle that later was renamed the Village Vanguard, where Ms. Rosnes performs frequently. The interplay between Ms. Rosnes and Mr. McBride’s beefy bass is a standout.

During long stretches at home, Ms. Rosnes found herself practicing classical pieces for technique and pleasure. A Sarabande from one of Bach’s English Suites is the foundation for her Baroque-tinged “Evermore,” which lets the listener hear Ms. Rosnes’s formal chops in a jazz setting.

An astronomy buff who studied the subject in college, Ms. Rosnes last year daydreamed about what rocketing past Jupiter might be like. “Passing Jupiter” is based on a phrase played by tenor saxophonist Lester Young on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” from the 1957 album “Count Basie at Newport.” Ms. Rosnes’s propulsive piano opener sets the tone, and solos by Mr. Potter on soprano sax and Mr. McBride on bass elaborate on Ms. Rosnes’s space theme.

The thrashing “Swoop” sounds like a fast game of catch between bandmembers as instrumental figures are tossed back and forth. Ms. Rosnes, Mr. Potter and Mr. McBride tear into their solos, egged on by Mr. Allen’s polyrhythmic drumming. 

“Blessings in a Year of Exile” closes out the album. Mr. Potter’s mournful soprano sax and Ms. Rosnes’s bright piano shift restlessly between foreboding and hope, as if undecided about last year—or this one. A musical reminder that virus variants still loom large.

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