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Kurt Rosenwinkel 

The Enemies of Energy

Kurt Rosenwinkel
The Enemies of Energy
(Verve)

A great deal of thought and ingenuity went into the making of this CD. All of the tunes, except keyboardist Scott Kinsey's "Point of View," which evolves without a break into guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's "Christmas Song," were written by Rosenwinkel, a long-time member of Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band. Other members of the group include tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Jeff Ballard.

Normally, small jazz groups play a theme followed by a series of solos and restate the theme to end the performance. Rosenwinkel's group departs from this format. He sometimes writes multisectioned tunes, such as "Grant," and employs varied rhythms derived from sources ranging from Brazilian to R&B within one piece. Instead of one solo invariably following another, he sometimes alternates the solos with written ensemble passages.

The tenor/guitar frontline employed here is an attractive one -- as Stan Getz's work with Jimmy Raney illustrated decades ago -- but still not a common one. The work of Rosenwinkel's band is simply exquisite. They play with great sensitivity, subtlety, and lyricism. While the soloists have mainstream styles -- Ronsenwinkel's work has a general similarity to the playing of Pat Metheny and John Scofield, Turner's to John Coltrane's and Wayne Shorter's, and Kinsey's to the efforts of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett -- they've also developed their own variations of the styles of their influences. Rosenwinkel's playing and writing is extremely melodic; he's got excellent chops, although he often plays economically. One of the more unusual selections, "Polish Song," features Kurt singing, and his falsetto efforts have something in common with Brazilian Milton Nascimento's vocals. Turner performs with Getzian delicacy, and Kinsey, a fine soloist, Street, and Ballard make up an extremely tasty, intelligent rhythm section. -- Harvey Pekar

Yma Sumac

The Ultimate Yma Sumac Collection

(The Right Stuff/Capitol)

Yma Sumac is a stunning singer of strato-spheric propensity who specializes in exotica, inscrutability, and intrigue. She is beyond strange, and this collection is all you need of her. Essential? No. Fascinating? More than most novelties.

Legend has it that Sumac is an Inca princess, the last direct descendant of Atahualpa, the last emperor of the Inca Empire. "Discovered" by the equally mysterious Moises Vivanco, a fellow Peruvian who became her husband and arranger (later, the two were divorced), Sumac began recording for Capitol Records in 1950, making her mark in truly strange music with "Voice of the Xtabay," a perennial among aficionados of the ultralounge, ultraweird, and ultrawhatever. This 21-track selection finds the singer with the four-octave range treating genres such as mambo (the brightly arranged "Bo Mambo") and the cha cha ("Taki Rari"). She also sounds overwrought on the previously unreleased "Negrito Filomino" and gives a highly colored take on "Wimoweh," a tune that ultimately mutated into the Tokens' "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." There's highly ornate swing, too, like the oddly cool "Huayno" and the strutting "Babalu." Many of these melodies may be familiar -- their lines aren't particularly original -- but you won't recognize them from their names here. Sung in what seems to be Spanish (at least occasionally) and, at other times, a vernacular apparently of her own making, these ditties are truly unique.

On some tunes, Sumac evokes the gravel voice of Louis Armstrong. On others, like the fevered "Atayhpura," she sings like a diva possessed -- someone of highly refined training one isn't likely to come across in the Andean highlands. Buoyed by tremulous strings, Sumac starts the song "Virgin of the Sun God" on a high note, then descends to contralto territory. As the jungle rhythm kicks in (the rain forest is always a presence in her music), the flutes punctuate her vocals, which are technically amazing if a bit too aerobic. Toward the middle of the song, atop a bed of throbbing congas and clattering timbales, Sumac ascends into avian territory, and her "double trill" vocals become the delight of dogs (and, ostensibly, their owners) throughout the neighborhood. -- Carlo Wolff

More by Carlo Wolff

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