Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Heartcore is an album unlike any other I’ve heard. It blends a top-tier jazz band with the layering of textures and rhythms common to electronic music. On most songs you’ll find Kurt overdubbing himself on various instruments to create shifting timbres and moods within the piece. To me, though, the album’s highlight isn’t Kurt’s unique melodic and harmonic sense; it’s the exciting polyrhythms created by multiple drum tracks, both real and synthetic, sometimes complementing each other, sometimes at odds.
This track is a great example. While the high hat keeps time in 4/4, the keys and bass are usually playing in groups of 3 or 5, all while Kurt and Jeff Ballard both play busy drum beats underneath. The wash of brushes and cymbals made it hard for me to pick up some of the chord voicings used, but this chart should give a basic idea of what’s happening harmonically.
I first heard this George Adams tune on a video of a Charles Mingus quintet at the 1974 Umbria jazz festival. At the time I remember being impressed by how much energy the band was putting out, playing frenetic solos at a burning tempo (about 280 bpm). After revisiting it on youtube recently I can’t help but notice that Mingus – by far the most experienced musician in the group – looks bored by his bandmates’ frequent forays into atonal wailing, even though the crowd goes wild for it. I suspect he finds little emotional content to all that sound and fury.
The more I think about it, the more this song seems anti-Mingus. The best Mingus compositions combine singable, haunting melodies with dense harmonies and dynamic arrangements to create a sound that is deeply complex but accessible to any music listener. This song has a very short form, and as a result it has only 14 bars to build excitement before the pedal point climax. This encourages the player to jump into it at top volume and stay there until the end. The harmonies are also kept to triads and tetrads, which help the soloist sound more edgy when deviating from the changes.
A modern take on an old classic, from Bruce Barth’s 2001 album East and West.