It is rare for edgy, exploratory guitarists to be signed by major labels. But Kurt Rosenwinkel is a special player, and he has vindicated Verve's faith by recording four strong albums in the last five years. Yet he has not achieved the public acceptance enjoyed by guitarists with whom he is sometimes mentioned, like Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell.
Rosenwinkel's new Verve album, Deep Song, is an explicit attempt to become more accessible. It's a long shot, because his music remains too complex, too metrically and harmonically challenging, for the mass market. But Deep Song is one startling, brilliantly realized idea after another. The eight originals, with their sliding layers of counterpoint, never resolve as expected.
Atypically for a fast-gun guitarist, Rosenwinkel likes pianists and tenor players, and he has never recorded with better ones than Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman, who appear on every track here but one.
This is not a working band, but it is deeply, collectively articulate. Mehldau's poise and focused power on difficult, unfamiliar musical forms is stunning. Redman is a clarion, passionate, fully integrated force. Rosenwinkel's guitar is both the most prominent, penetrating presence and the provocative, densely detailed background wash for the others. Larry Grenadier on bass and either Jeff Ballard or Ali Jackson on drums make flame on every tune, sometimes raging ("Cake"), sometimes smoldering ("Use of Light").
Rosenwinkel should play more standards like "If I Should Lose You." His unique song concept allows for complete self-expression, and it is fun to encounter known material reconfigured with his revelatory inflections.