March 2002

Ted Rosenthal

Ted Rosenthal denies any numerological significance in the fact that his two latest CDs for Playscape, one in a trio and one solo, are called Threeplay and Ted Rosenthal Plays the Three B’s: Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Beethoven, respectively. In fact, the pianist explains, the latter album was recorded in 1999, but the vagaries of the music industry mean that it will be released after the trio record. And one must note that if the numbering were evidence of some Illuminati-esque plot to take over the world with lyrical, intelligent, characterful jazz, one more album would be needed to complete the trifecta. Still, these two out of three ain’t bad.

Unusually among jazz albums, the wit of Threeplay actually extends beyond its title. “I’m as serious as the next guy when it comes to the music,” says Rosenthal, “but sometimes I think jazz players think they may have to avoid dealing with certain emotions, and I think, ‘Why not look for the whole gamut of things?’”

It’s easier to do when the wit showcased is one’s own. “Over the years, I’ve written a lot of tunes, and in the last few years since I haven’t recorded as regularly, there were plenty of tunes ready to go,” Rosenthal explains. “The label”—especially Michael Musillami, founder of Playscape—”definitely wanted to feature more originals.”

Rosenthal has been playing with bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Matt Wilson for some time, so the recording experience was congenial and relaxed, especially when Musillami arranged massages for the trio. Unsurprisingly, given the massages, Rosenthal hopes he can record with Playscape again.

Two of the three B’s included on Rosenthal’s solo disc are familiar to any jazz fan, but old Ludwig jumps right out as the one that’s not like the others. “The main point is that any material that I chose to improvise on speaks to me personally,” says Rosenthal. “Beethoven’s themes and musical motives are short and memorable, which allows me to use them as a jumping-off point for an improvisation that could go in any number of ways, depending on my mood, where the music takes me, and how adventurous I’m feeling at the moment.” The effect is occasionally startling but more often surprisingly natural, with the music’s gravity retained and reinterpreted—a natural complement to Rosenthal’s imaginative takes on the two master jazzmen.

Rosenthal plans to continue to combine solo and group activity, and to present his own compositions alongside his takes on standards, but he makes no mention of seeking a threepeat in his titles. This is just as well: a pianist of Rosenthal’s talent doesn’t need the magic number to make good music, again and again and again.

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