Among guitarists of his generation, Kurt Rosenwinkel sets the standard in more ways than one. His virtuosity and facility on his instrument aside, he’s always been one of a kind. From the use of his voice as part of his lines, to his signature tone and compositional sound, to his fearless dedication to exploring collaborations and sounds that a “jazz guitarist” typically wouldn’t, Rosenwinkel is always challenging expectations and pushing his music to the next level.
On his latest release, Caipi, Rosenwinkel continues to explore new sonic territory. The album, carefully crafted over many years, features Rosenwinkel on all instruments, alongside some very special guests. According to the liner notes, he plays: acoustic & electric guitars, electric bass, piano, drums, percussion, synth, casio and voice. Though it’s listed last, his voice is probably one of the most prominent features of the “Caipi” sound. On Caipi, Rosenwinkel’s voice is front and center, carrying the melodies to his songs, and these are songs in the true sense of the word, with beautiful, thought-provoking lyrics.
This new emphasis on vocals doesn’t come at the expense of harmonic inventiveness or the kind of jaw dropping guitar playing that has sent many a guitarist back to the practice room after listening; rather, it’s a blend of poignant melodies and high energy playing, the kind which only Rosenwinkel could bring to light. We were very excited to chat with Kurt about Caipi, his new venture as label head of Heartcore Records, and about his appreciation for his Casio keyboard, among other things.
Kurt Rosenwinkel: Caipi is a shorthand for Caipirinha and also refers to Caipiras, which are people who live in the countryside in Brazil, but I found that out later. In Berlin, as these songs started to come out, I realized that they had something to do with Brazilian and South American and Latin rhythms, so I just started to call it the Caipi music, just as my own term for it since it had something to do with Brazil.
The album is not like a traditional Brazilian record by any means. It’s like my own sort of dream of, – I don’t even know why these songs came out; they just did. I was like, “Oh man, that’s got something to do with Brazil.” So I started to call it, “Oh, that’s another Caipi song.”
R: This record has been in the works for a long time, right?
R: Did anything specific inspire you to release it now or did you just finally feel like the stuff was ready to come out?
KR: Yeah, it was just the culmination of the natural practice of the making of the album. Yeah. It took a very long time, and I was very patient with it, working on it little by little all through the years. I didn’t have any pressure. I didn’t force myself to formalize it in any way. I just knew that it would be ready when it’s ready, then in the beginning of last year, a lot of different life phrases resolved themselves and I made some major changes.
I resigned from school. I embarked on my own career path, with management and booking and the record company – I started a record company. I made these big changes in order to accommodate the finishing of this album, and it couldn’t have been any more natural and perfect for the completion of this thing. It’s incredible because it’s taken so long, so it’s a very emotional experience to see this thing actually becoming more than just music in my private studio.
R: The result is really special, so it seems like it was worth the time.
KR: Thank you very much, I appreciate that.
R: There are a couple tunes on the record, “Casio Vanguard” and “Casio Escher,” that have Casio in the title, and you’re credited with playing “Casio.” I think that’s the first time I’ve seen anybody credited specifically with Casio.
R: Was the sound of a specific keyboard the inspiration for those tunes?
KR: Yeah, you know, certain instruments are magical, and over the years I have been lucky to find a few of them and they’ve been with me. One of them is always this Casio keyboard that I have. It’s an old Casio from the 70’s, and it’s got, you know, just the regular stuff that a Casio keyboard does, with the auto-accompaniment and stuff like that. It gave me a lot of inspiration for those two songs and other things, too. I wrote many songs on that keyboard. Those names are kind of like the working titles that became the actual titles.
KR: Yeah. When I was younger, I started to give more weight to my experiences in the dream world than I did to my experiences in the waking world. I developed a very strong existence in dreams and I always wrote them down. In fact, this year I’m going to publish a book of writings and also some dreams and poems, but, you know, I’ve received a lot of very important messages through dreams and learned a lot of very deep things about life through dreams. To me, the dream world and music are almost the same in the sense that you are connecting with the universe at large. Through both of these mediums we can gain access to realms that you can’t in the normal waking state of being. Music is a metaphor for dreams, which is a metaphor for music, which is a metaphor for life. That’s what comes to mind at that moment.
R: This record is a lot different than the last few you put out. The one it’s most similar to is probably Heartcore, right, because you played all the instruments, but can you talk about the few special guests you brought on?
KR: Yeah, well, Amanda (Brecker), I always had this conundrum with the music and it had to do with the element of the voice in the album. For a long time I would go back and forth wondering if I was going to sing it or if I could find a singer who would be able to sing these songs, which is a really tough prospect because it’s very difficult to have somebody else sing your songs, or for you to sing somebody else’s songs. They have to really be able to understand it, so the first time I really felt this way, I heard Amanda and figured we should give it a try, and she wrote some beautiful lyrics. She really stepped up and engaged with the music in a deep way, and came up with great lyrics, and she recorded the tracks. Her voice is very beautiful, so that’s how she became a part of the album. I think through doing that I began to realize that it also should be me who’s the main singer on the album. That’s why there’s a lot of duets and both my voice and her voice.
Then Pedro Martins came on the scene in a very magical way as well. He had found a demo tape of these songs about eight years ago, when he was 15 years old in Brazil. I went down there to find a lyricist for these songs in their very beginning stages and I left the demo tape there. He got a hold of it and it influenced his musical development from that point forward. Cut to last year at the Montreal Jazz Festival guitar competition, and he was playing. He won. He’s an incredible guitarist, and I was president of the jury. What he won was a mentorship, which is actually where I am right now, for the second year.
When I got to know him, he like all of a sudden played one of the songs on piano, and I was like, “Woah! How do you know that? This is just music that’s my private music so far. Nobody knows this stuff.” He was playing all the songs! (laughs). He was like, “Yo, man, this music has meant a lot to me for many, many years.” I was like, wow, that is so deep. So, I was like, “Hey man, would you mind singing this one,” and then he sang and I was like oh man, that’s it, because he just understands it so deeply within himself, and he’s such an incredible musician. We’ve been collaborating very closely since that day. His album, we’re mixing it now, he’s going to be the second release on Heartcore records. His album is incredible.
Mark Turner, is obviously my long time collaborator and inspiring brother, and I just couldn’t make a record like this without him. Our connection, our bond, is so strong. We haven’t been playing much together for a number of years and I really wanted him to be on this album, much in the same spirit of how we did Heartcore. He came into the studio and I gave him this chart that was just terribly written. It had splotches all over the place and notes with no stems, just a bunch of them, because it was just what I had written for myself, just a freehand reference thing. He just knows. He just understands my music so innately, and he just came in and was just all beauty and incredible playing. That was very meaningful to me, and I was super happy that that’s on the album because it’s a whole other dimension to the aspects of the sound and the meaning of the album.
(Eric) Clapton, I’m so grateful and lucky to have met him. He’s an incredible guy. He’s been huge supporter of mine. When we were mixing the album he came through the studio and I was like, “Hey man, it would really be meaningful to me if you were just on the album. Even just one note. Just play one note, just so I know that you’re there, for all time.” He was like, yeah sure. So he did the take, just one take through that song and that’s what he played, and he was so gracious and generous that he was ok with us keeping it on the album. It’s a real meaningful moment or manifestation of our relationship. Also his involvement with Caipi because, he’s been aware of it for many years and has given me a lot of encouragement and good feedback and support.
KR: Well, like I said I moved on from my situation with my previous manager. He was my booking agent and my record company, so I was a free agent and I was contemplating what to do. I was looking into labels and I had a lot of positive response from labels, but I just all of a sudden realized that wouldn’t it be more of an adventure and more exciting to start my own record label and manifest and implement my own ideas and visions about the connections between music and people and cultures and genres. Instead of being one artist on a label that has it’s own artistic and aesthetic vision – I realized that a lot of the things that I do may not necessarily fit with a particular label’s vision, and I’ve always, my entire career, have had to struggle to convince record companies to let me do what I wanted to do. They usually let me, but it was a struggle, so I realized that I wouldn’t have that problem if I were the boss (laughs).
I also wanted to take control over my own business, as an artist and as a businessman. You look around and every store you walk by, there’s somebody who said, “I’m going to start my own business and just do it myself and see if I can be successful on my own terms, with my own relationships with people.” It’s a very fun prospect in that sense.
Also, I realized I was in a position in my career, in my life, where that would be possible. I’m well known enough so that I could start my own brand of music, visions. Especially in the desolated landscape of the music industry as it is right now, I wanted to be a beacon of light in this world. That is very, very deeply important to me and is the active principle which is being implemented with this. The idea of it and the intention of it is to really manifest strong positive energy in the world, and to really do that I realized that I had to be the leader of that in order for it to manifest, to enable it. I realized that, in this moment of my life, the best role that I could take for music in general, would be to adopt this role of label head so I can enable great music to happen, and it’s worked. It’s working and it’s really been very beautiful to see how people have come together around this idea and the amazing, magical synergies that have come together to make a lot of great things happen in service of this idea. That’s the idea behind it.
R: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
KR: Well, I just want everybody to know that we’re doing our best and we’re putting all of our best energy into this life and this time and we’re going to have lots of great music coming forward. Caipi is out and we will be touring live and we hope to see everybody out there and thank everybody for their support.
Caipi is out via Razdaz Recordz and Heartcore Records and available anywhere you purchase music, like here. Kurt is on tour in support of the new record. Catch him at:
Birdland March 14 – 18,
Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, March 21,
Regatta Bar in Boston March 29
Jazz Showcase in Chicago, March 30 – April 2.