Kurt Rosenwinkel "The Next Step Band" Live at Smalls 1996

Kurt Rosenwinkel "The Next Step Band" Live at Smalls 1996

An unearthed live recording from Heartcore Records captures the legendary Next Step ensemble performing with flourishing creativity and improvisational flow.

In the domain of contemporary music, certain works constitute a seismic shift in the aesthetic, cultural, and ingenuitive values by which an era is defined. Simultaneously a point of arrival resulting from years of arduous labor and relentless, unwavering refinement, and a new beginning where inventive artistry is now free to explore new territory- it is difficult to imagine a world without these foundational works. For our modern era, guitarist and composer Kurt Rosenwinkel’s record The Next Step is that cornerstone piece, that one common thread that seems to have left its mark everywhere. Voted the most important and influential jazz recording of the 21st century in Jazz Times Magazine, The Next Step sent shockwaves through a discerning musical community obsessed with innovation and defined a new movement and direction for an entire generation of aspiring musicians.

Heartcore Records’ newest release The Next Step (Live at Smalls 1996) presents Kurt Rosenwinkel and his cadre of adept musical counterparts- tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Ben Street, and percussionist Jeff Ballard ripping through a fiery set of six original compositions that would eventually form the framework of the seminal studio masterpiece. Smalls, the storied Greenwich Village haunt which has fostered so much of New York City’s jazz scene since the early 1990’s, serves as the background as Rosenwinkel and company pioneer new sonic vistas and engage in dexterous improvisational interplay. The music is daring and technical, full of moody colors and contours, engaging, and yet still imbued with a sense of exploration that invites the listener into the experience all at once. The musicians, Rosenwinkel in particular, are digging deep into the realms of self discovery throughout this gem of a live performance. 

Track one, “A Shifting Design” opens with the solitary sound of Rosenwinkel’s guitar as he expertly weaves flurries of improvised counterpoint into the fabric of the composition’s motivic theme. Soon, the band enters, launching into an undulating swing that underpins the complex and ever changing harmonic structure of the piece. The stage is set for an epic journey of euphonic storytelling with Rosenwinkel at the helm. Another highlight, “A Life Unfolds” again starts with the composer improvising a gorgeous solo guitar introduction with a deep, enveloping tone. Ballard and Street anchor this sublime ballad with a haunting lilt while Mark Turner spins an intricate web of linear development above Kurt’s vast sonic landscape, giving way to an entrancing vignette of a second guitar solo and a final, impressionistic statement of the thematic material. 

“Zhivago” is an anthemic Rosenwinkel waltz that has attained an iconic status amongst present day musicians and cultured listeners. The robust descending chords of the introduction give way to a mysterious ascending passage, resolving into a song-like motif that builds with a furious intensity. Zhivago’s architectural blueprint, intricate, dynamic, and full of forward momentum, makes it the forebearer of a new school in jazz writing that continues to thrive in the present day. On The Next Step Live at Smalls 1996, Rosenwinkel, Turner, Street, and Ballard are joined by jazz piano titan and Small’s regular Brad Mehldau for a transcendent rendition of this singular composition. Note how the pianist’s pointillistic style and rhythmic phrasing perfectly contrast and compliment the sweeping harmonic gestures of Rosenwinkel and Turner, who play with such fervor and energy as to recall the best of Coltrane, Henderson et. all. The track ends with an enthusiastic applause as Mehldau, sitting in for the evening, plunks out a few nonchalant chords as if to say “all in a day’s work.”

The Next Step (Live At Small’s 1996) is a record forged by the entrainment and connectivity extant in the bustling New York Jazz community of the 1990’s. This record puts you, the listener, right there in that dimly-lit Greenwich Village underground where the finest musicians in the world have pushed their abilities to the very limit. The energy, the passion, the visionary flame which turned Kurt Rosenwinkel’s eight-year Tuesday night Small’s residency into the stuff of myth and fable is all brought to life on this newest release from Heartcore Records. Perhaps Mitch Borden, the revered owner of Small’s said it best when he recalled "Kurt Rosenwinkel's band played with such dramatic fire that it would consume everyone present."

In celebration of The Next Step and its enduring legacy, this summer Kurt Rosenwinkel and the original Next Step lineup will be touring and performing the record in select US and European locations. For more information please visit heartcore-records.com

Kurt Rosenwinkel The Next Step (Live At Smalls 1996) will be available through all digital music platforms on July 26th 2024.   

Text written by Tomas Antonic


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