• Kurt Rosenwinkel: The Grapes Of Jazz

    November 18, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    The days of wine and jazz improvisation. (Image Credit: Josh Jackson)

    "Making a good wine," my oldest son says, "is about choosing the grapes that you'd like to eat." And you can't do that with huge containers. You have to be like a small child filling a bucket.
    --René Barbier, Clos Mogador Winery

    When Joan Cararach, the Artistic Director of the Barcelona Jazz Festival, told me about his gambit, it sounded a little impractical. The premise was thus:

    Bring Spain's finest vignerons together at Monviníc, an oenological cultural institution in Barcelona's Eixample district. Taste their finest wares -- an Iberian sauvignon, an albariño, a blended red from Penedès, another red from the heart of Catalunya's Priorat hills, an ancient Moscatel from Málaga and a noble Jerez Amontillado. Invite Kurt Rosenwinkel to play improvisations based on his impressions of these wines. Is this even possible?

    The short answer is yes. Rosenwinkel had plenty of study time. His trio (Eric Revis, Ted Poor) and guests enjoyed four bottles at a specially prepared menu in Paris. The remaining two bottles were consumed in Umeå, Sweden, for Kurt's 40th birthday. He made tasting notes on an index card and then worked from there. "I'm not an expert by any means," Rosenwinkel said. "But it was a great challenge to translate and interpret the qualities of the wine into musical qualities."

    I still wasn't sure, but Kurt had a plan. "All the colors and textures, they all have harmonic colors. They all have speed. Some wines are fast some are slow. Some are rhythmic, some are plaintive. I immediately heard some chords, so for each bottle, I would feel a certain tonality."

    Were there any favorites? It's an unfair question to ask, but I did anyway. "They're all great," Rosenwinkel said. "The Clos Mogador 2001 floored me. It's such a beautiful red wine -- very light but very intense flavor. It had a deep and profound tannic structure. It made for a very complex improvisation, and it was hard to reconcile both the wine and the music for that one."

    My heart leaps up when I think about what happened in Barcelona on Monday night. I'll admit to some initial skepticism, but too much of it can rob a man of good intentions. You have to let wine and song prevail, else your bucket's got a hole in it.


    Hear more selections from the Kurt Rosenwinkel Monviníc Experience on the next edition of The Checkout.

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