The title of Renee Rosnes' most recent CD is certainly ambitious. Unlike Pearl Buck's novel, The Good Earth,
which contained a double as well an ironic meaning, Rosnes' intentions on Life On Earth
are steadfastly earnest. And well timed. For even though Life On Earth
was recorded last May, the events of September 11, which changed everything everywhere, compounded the CD's significance, albeit fortuitously.
In addition, Life On Earth,
even though it features some musicians from Rosnes' past CD's, represents a striking departure for her as she addresses the world's musics theme (as opposed to "world music" theme). The CD is so elaborately produced, with seven of Rosnes' original compositions, that it's surprising it was recorded in the space of just two days of studio time. Each track involves not only a separate grouping of musicians, but also a separate concept. On the one hand, "Hanuman" uses an actual recording of the "monkey chant" from Bali to kick off the tune's rhythm, while on the other, Rosnes is true to the spirit of the newly renamed Canadian territory of Nunavut by concluding "Icelight" with Kevin Tarrant's incantation in the native Inuit tongue.
And the point being?
Obviously, that music is a bridge that brings together the world's cultures, even among people who can't understand the others' languages. The relevance of this message as terrorism becomes Topic Number One throughout the world and as the industrialized nations fight an ungoverned and ungovernable enemy can't be understated. Leave it to jazz, with its absorption of multitudinous influences and its ever-refreshing pushing of musical boundaries, to represent the inestimable value of music for human understanding.
Rosnes understood this, even before world events pushed the need for compassion front and center. And so did the musicians on Life On Earth.
Thus, what apparently is an amalgam of various musical approaches derived from living on earth merges with her overall theme of universal understanding, as facilitated by music. Rosnes understood music's power even more clearly on September 12, when she found that her audience openly weeped, as if in catharsis, when she spontaneously decided to perform "Over The Rainbow" at the Shanghai Jazz club in Madison, New Jersey. She does the same things, on a less emotional scale, on Life On Earth,
as the open-minded listener perceives the commonality of the different musics of the world that unite us.
And what of the music? In the midst of her elaborately executed and energetically elevating songs, Rosnes brings in her now-familiar flowing style--one which she intends to be an unfettered expression of feeling through the instrument of piano. As yet another performer in the groups she created, she shares solo duties, actually creating a calm center underpinning infectious tunes like "Senegal Son" and "Hanuman." "Icelight" proceeds from Rosnes' initial piano vamp, deceptively simple but establishing the basis for ever denser chords and a remarkable tenor sax solo by Walt Weiskopf. By the same token, "Gabriola Passage" begins as inauspiciously, Rosnes outlining the structure of the tune before Weiskopf takes over the melodic lines.
But the most attention-getting tracks are those that refer directly to other cultures. The standout element of "Empress Afternoon" turns out to be Zakir Hussain's beginning-to-end pulsations from the tabla; of "Senegal Son," Mor Thiam's joyous vocal interjections; of "Hanuman," the authenticity of the chanting.
In contrast to the tracks of the more elaborate arrangements or instrumentation are the two played by Rosnes' trio. "Ballad Of The Sad Young Men," even though included on the CD before September 11, retroactively becomes a tribute to the heroes of the attacks, according to the liner notes. However, I suspect that the tune was selected for its inherent beauty and emotional appeal, no matter what the occasion. And "Nana" allows Rosnes to record for the first time a tribute to the great Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla, not to mention building upon her curiosity about the possibilities of classical music's influence on jazz.
Consistently, Renee Rosnes has been expanding her interests revealed on her recordings, and she has been growing as a musician with understated strength and multi-faceted talent.