Review by Brad Walseth
"Feet on the earth, head in the sky" is how Michele Rosewoman describes the music on her new recording with her group Quintessence - "The In Side Out," and her assessment really says it all. This is music that merges elements of hard bop, Afro-Cuban, funk and fusion with such avant garde notions as unusual chord changes and time signatures, and polyrhthms and polyphony in a harmonious balance; Rosewoman's compositions are appealing and melodic, while moving far beyond the rudimentary; They are exceedingly layered and intelligent, without being mere artistic or mathematical exercises.
The wryly titled "Cuerpolarity" starts things off with avant garde polyphony, but only lasts 1:04 before the aptly titled "Warm" digs in with some tasty 70's funk that could have come from The Crusaders or Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, but for the shifting polyrhythms. This grooving piece features Daniel Fiuczynski's fusion guitar tendrils and Rosewoman's adventurous electric piano.
"Link" is a piano driven foray featuring some delicious horn work both together and solo by Miguel Zenon on soprano sax and Mark Shim on tenor. Bassist Brad Jones and drummer Derrek Phillips (along with pianist Rosewoman of course) hold down the interlocking groove, and Jones adds a tasty solo.
"Guapo"'s aggressive polyrhythms (again driven by the locked-in rhythm section), shift into into a deceptively calmer middle section and allow Fiuczynski to add some Coryell-influnced lines. Rosewoman takes a delightful solo turn complete with cascading runs and surprising intervallic maneuvers. Shim gets the nod on tenor solo here and delivers with ferocity and intelligence. A short funky modern remix of the tune follows and shows that even the most intricate and "difficult" rhythms can work as dance music.
The centerpiece of the album is "Eshu Laroye" where Rosewoman and guest vocalist Olu Femi Mitchell overdub their voices in layers of harmony over an Afro-Cuban beat that makes it sound as if an entire amazing choir is singing. As a neophyte to the nuances of the different Afro-Cuban and Latin rhythms and traditional components I will not attempt to pretend any special understanding of the style involved, but would describe it to listeners as Afro-Latin rhythm powered by Pedro Pablo Martinez on congas, bata, vocals and percussion with African call and response vocals (that in turn hint at American Gospel music) which suddenly mutates into hard bop, then back into spiritual vocals and talking drums. Although I have not heard them, I suspect this composition may sound similar to Rosewoman's "New Yor-Uba" group, of which she is the leader.
"With You in Mind (For Duke)" takes elements of Ellington's chords and modernizes them into a swirling and swinging composition. Josh Roseman's trombone adds a nice flavor here, Zenon solos well, while Rosewoman's solo straddles the inside and out to sparkling effect. "The ER" is mysterious, with the composer showing wonderful chops on the electric piano. Guitarist Fiuczynski and Shim on tenor erect angular scaffoldings, while percussionist Martinez displays his prodigious talent on his solo spotlight.
Even when the music is seemingly straight-ahead funky, as on "The Fineness Of", Rosewoman has mixed it up - here providing the counterpoint on piano while the rest of the band struts like they are from Oakland (which, indeed Rosewoman originally is). Meanwhile, perhaps my favorite composition (at the moment anyway) - "Advance Dance" is a lengthy commissioned piece in odd timing that proves that unusual time signatures truly can groove when in the right hands. I hesitate to say Rosewoman is at her best here because she is so good throughout, but she is so focused on this song, and her lines are so beautifully constructed... Shim and Zenon solo well, with Shim perhaps taking more chances, but Zenon's light tone and gracefully melodic work coherently contrast with Shim and somewhat centers the music that at times seems ready to spin off into the stratosphere. Drummer Phillips gets a brief solo and deserves considerable credit for keeping this labyrinthine musical puzzle glued together.
Finally, the short soulful Marvin Gaye number "Life is For Learning" with Rosewoman's tantalizing vocals ends the CD too soon on a funky note that leaves the listener wanting to hear more.
Michele Rosewoman is one of the most intriguing composers and pianists I've heard, and her mixture of diverse and colorful styles, and inside and outside harmonies and rhythms, is one that provides needed succor to both the brain and the heart. With the mainstream of jazz seemingly stuck in a rut, Rosewoman has shown us a new way through her contrapuntal, polyrhymic, groove-based sound.