Renee Rosnes ‘Written in the Rocks’ (Smoke Sessions) 4/5

renee-rosnesCanadian pianist Renee Rosnes emerged at the very end of the 1980s when the hard bop revival was in full swing as one of the leading new talents on the piano scene and recorded early 1990s albums for the prestigious Blue Note label that featured Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. Now a fully matured musician, Rosnes has recorded a new set of all-original compositions and the album as a whole is inspired by her love of the natural beauty of the topography of West Canada where she grew up in proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded by a stellar line-up of some of New York’s finest session musicians, including Peter Washington on bass, Bill Stewart on drums, Steve Nelson on vibraphone and Steve Wilson alternating between flute, alto and soprano saxophones, this is a highly enjoyable recording that recalls the great collaborations between McCoy Tyner and Bobby Hutcherson. Indeed both Tyner and Herbie Hancock remain seminal influences on the playing of Rosnes, although her composing talent has flourished in recent years and this new album, with an extended seven piece suite, ‘The Galapagos Suite’, indicates that Rosnes is a keen student of the suite work of Duke Ellington as well as the post-bop excursions of John Coltrane in ‘A love supreme’.

The music is at its most evocative on numbers such as the main piece to the suite, ‘Galapagos’, with a flute-led intro and modal vamps from Rosnes, and underpinning it all a subtle Latin jazz undercurrent. Equally impressive is the gentle waltz, ‘Lucy from afar’, where the delicate combination of vibes and piano combine beautifully and is exactly the kind of composition that Bobby Hutcherson might have recorded during his mid-1960s tenure for Blue Note. Elsewhere more contemporary influences are discernible as on the piece, ‘Cambrian explosion’, which betrays a love of Steps Ahead and Weather Report in its phrasing.
On a more reflective note, Rosnes and the trio excel on ‘From here to a star’, with Wilson out of proceedings while the cohesive nature of the rhythm section is showcased on the delightful ballad, ‘So simple a beginning’.

Renee Rosnes’ career is typical of those musicians now in their fifties who were embraced by the major labels in the 1990s boom, then unceremoniously dumped when commercial sales did not match the critical plaudits. The truth of the matter is that the pianist is now recording some of the finest music of her career and now has a panoramic vision of her craft. The listener is very much the beneficiary of this greater wisdom.

Tim Stenhouse