Philly guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has homecoming at Kimmel

Kurt Rosenwinkel credits some Philadelphia mentors as integral influences.
Kurt Rosenwinkel credits some Philadelphia mentors as integral influences. (LOURDES DELGADO)
Posted: January 15, 2014

Thursday night will mark guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's debut at the Kimmel Center - but the evening still promises to feel like a homecoming.

For one thing, it will be Rosenwinkel's first show in several years in his native Philadelphia. In addition, opening the show will be bassist Mike Boone, a mentor to Rosenwinkel during the guitarist's formative years.

"I've known Mike since I was 16," Rosenwinkel says. "I went to the jam session at the old Blue Note in East Oak Lane every Monday, and I met him there. He helped me a lot."

Since leaving town nearly 25 years ago to attend Berklee College of Music, Rosenwinkel has become one of the most renowned and influential jazz musicians of his generation. Now 43, he returns home at the helm of his New Quartet, a fantastic group of forward-thinking players: pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Kendrick Scott.

"It's one of those bands where you feel like everybody was meant to play together," Rosenwinkel says. "It's got a kind of chemistry that you don't find so often."

That chemistry is vividly displayed on the group's 2012 debut, Star of Jupiter. The two-disc set (which features fellow Philadelphian Justin Faulkner, rather than Scott, on drums) overflows with creative ideas and scintillating playing. A diverse collection, the album ranges from briskly swinging straight-ahead jazz tunes to electrifying rock fusion.

The cosmological influences evident in the album's title and in tracks like "Gamma Band" or "Heavenly Bodies" are the result of the guitarist's cosmic worldview, a somewhat mystical sense of his connection with music and spirituality. That sense manifested itself, in the case of Star of Jupiter, in a dream that he says acknowledged that the band was on the right track.

"I felt like the creation of the album had lucky stars, that the whole thing was blessed somehow," he explains. "Then I had this dream, and that set in motion a series of very mystical experiences that led up to and culminated in the recording of the album. It all seemed to be intertwined and deeply related to my relationship with the universe or spiritual realm. I really felt support from that realm in the making of the album."

He connected with that spiritual realm almost immediately on becoming interested in music. He started playing the piano at age 9 and, he says, "It felt incredible and magical just to play a few notes and hear the cosmic vibrations coming through your soul." He picked up guitar at 12 and became focused on jazz while attending Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA).

While most of his professional life has taken place outside of Philly, and although he has lived in Berlin for the last decade, Rosenwinkel continues to credit some of his Philadelphia mentors as integral influences. That list includes Boone, as well as saxophonist Tony Williams and the late pianist and educator Jimmy Amadie.

Rosenwinkel left Berklee after two years to tour with vibraphonist Gary Burton, who has discovered many of the modern jazz scene's most distinctive guitarists. He quickly emerged as an innovative new voice on the instrument. He can't quite pinpoint when he found that individual sound. "I thought I'd already found my own voice, even when I sounded like John Scofield," he says, referring to the influential fusion guitarist. "I care about expression and finding the sound that I'm hearing in my head, because there is a definite sound with certain characteristics that I'm always pursuing. It's evolved over the years, and I always feel like I'm still finding it."

That evolution continues in 2014 in a number of projects, including a new album with his long-running band Human Feel, formed during his Berklee days, as well as a solo recording and a follow-up to his 2003 electronic album Heartcore (which was produced by Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest). In May, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will perform big-band arrangements of music by both Rosenwinkel and his CAPA classmate Christian McBride - yet another link back home.

"Philly is my roots," Rosenwinkel says. "It's very special to me."

Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: $25-$35; Information: 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org.

CONCERT

Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: $25-$35; Information: 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org.

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