Michele Rosewoman

Guardians of the Light

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Pianist Michele Rosewoman presents her quintet, Quintessence, in this live club date from Sweet Basil in New York City. On this nine-track program, Rosewoman and her band -- saxophonists Steve Wilson and Craig Handy, bassist Kenny Davis, and drummer Gene Jackson -- perform some of her finest and most well known original compositions, as well as a song apiece from the pens of Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. The mix is a little drum-heavy, but other than that, there's little to criticize here. Kicking things off on a very high note, the outstanding "The Thrill of Real Love" is a soulful, complex, quirky waltz, on which Wilson's soprano and Handy's tenor set the tone. Over the course of 11 minutes, the Mingus soul ballad "Weird Nightmare" is centered by the piano of Rosewoman, who uses a clacking, staccato phraseology and the occasional Monk-ish angular derivation to show off her unique, personalized approach. Leading the way in tandem with Jackson's cowbell, Rosewoman picks up the Ghanaian gankogui double bell to inform the rhythm of the funky "West Africa Blue," while the 10½-minute hard-bop swinger "Where It Comes From" allows the band to stretch out improvisationally and display more of the leader's typical flourishes, accents, repeated phrases, and shifting dynamics. "Free to Be" is chock-full of dense, interwoven sax, while the group gets fresh and funky on "Fuzz Junk," which is cemented by the saxes' sparse, staccato punctuation. Rosewoman goes it alone on Monk's "Ask Me Now," which contains some delightful vaudevillian stride inferences. The set's magnum opus, "Akomado," is an 11½-minute excursion through dizzying tempo changes. Sung in ethnic phrases by Rosewoman while the soprano/tenor combo cry in the distance, the piece speeds up with cheetah-like quickness, then settles into an easy swing for the piano solo, before returning to alternately furious and calm themes. Overall, a most impressive musical offering. The set concludes with the dramatic funk of "Vamp for Ochun." This is Rosewoman's seventh disc -- not enough for an evolved talent of her presence, conviction, and individuality. We still have not heard her New Yoruba Ensemble on disc, and while that's long overdue, Quintessence has plenty of substance to make the wait an extremely pleasant one.

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