Life on Earth
Blue Note Records
Jazz is about taking risks, and Renee Rosnes takes several on Life on Earth. Some, but not all of them pay off.
Rosnes ambitiously attempts to weave such unlikely sources as a field recording of the Balinese ketjak (aka monkey chant) into a celebratory fabric as on "Hanuman." Heard individually, some of Rosnes' world music-oriented experiments have true merit, particularly her integration of Native American singer Kevin Tarrant into the Coltraneish original "Icelight." Yet the front-loading of "Empress Afternoon," a generic if effusive foray into Indian music, ably aided and abetted by tabla master Zakir Hussain, and "Senegal Son," a frothy Senegalese-tinged romp complicates the task of cohering the deeper statement Rosnes intended. These initial tracks inadequately prepare the listener for her gently killing reading (with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Billy Drummond) of Frances Landesmann's 1959 song "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," from the musical The Nervous Set, which Rosnes found on Roberta Flack's debut LP. It then takes Rosnes a few tracks, culminating in "The Quiet Earth," a lustrous ballad featuring Rosnes' core trio and a string quintet, to confirm a more probative agenda.
Still, Rosnes remains wedded to some stale formulas of album building, such as taking it out with an uplifting groove; largely a vehicle for Steve Turre's conch shell wizardry, the radio-friendly "The Call of Triton" does just that. However, it deflates the poignancy Rosnes squeezes from the penultimate track, an exquisite trio take on Manuel de Falla's "Nana," based on a heart-melting Andalusian folk song.
There are several compelling stories between the Life on Earth's bookends. When Rosnes finds more intriguing openings and closings for her albums, her music will resonate even more.