It would be an understatement to say there is no shortage of pianistic interpretations of the ageless contributions of Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein/Hart, Cole Porter, et. al. So any pianist who dares to take on that canon anew had better have something fresh to say about it. Ted Rosenthal does.
On Out Of This World (Playscape Recordings), the new collection featuring Rosenthal on piano, bassist Noriko Ueda and Quincy Davis on drums, 10 timeless classics from the golden era of American song craft are rendered in an impeccably lyrical, colorful manner that compels the listener to rethink them. Rosenthal and crew embrace the familiar tunesreliable standards like Embraceable You," People Will Say We're In Love" and Cry Me a River"and, without ever losing sight of the melody at the heart, reimagine them from the ground up. Rosenthal thrives on re-creating these cultural cornerstones in his own image.
One of the enduring qualities of the Great American Songbook is that the songs can be played convincingly in so many different ways," he says. Whether it's a fresh look at the harmonies or the rhythm, I enjoy presenting (or deranging) the songs in a manner that will catch the audience's ear."
Take the Arlen-Mercer-penned title track. Rosenthal's arrangement features a strong bass line counterpoint and an odd-meter treatment (9/8) that at times conjures up Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo a la Turk." For So In Love," Rosenthal takes Cole Porter's long romantic melody and shifts it between moody Latin grooves and fast swing. Rodgers and Hart's Have You Met Miss Jones" is given an up-tempo treatment and makes several harmonic twists and turns. The Gershwins' Embraceable You" also gets an odd-meter treatment (5/4), but, says Rosenthal, I try to keep the mood romantic as it was my wedding song."
Rodgers and Hammerstein's People Will Say We're in Love" from Oklahoma gets an up-tempo swing treatment, but Rosenthal throws a curve by alluding to fellow jazz pianist Cedar Walton's Cedar's Blues" in the melody. Lotus Blossom," written by the great Ellington associate Billy Strayhorn, and the Gershwin brothers' How Long Has This Been Going On" are two haunting melodies that invite rich harmonies, melodic variation and improvisation. The always evocative Cry Me a River," by Arthur Hamilton, is taken at a spirited, breakneck speed that allows Rosenthal and the smart, inventive rhythm section to deconstruct and reassemble the melody, while In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," written by David Mann and Bob Hilliard and often associated with Sinatra, is the quintessential late night ballad, full of longing and romance.
Another unquestionable highlight of Out Of This World is Rosenthal's moody interpretation of George Gershwin's Prelude #2." Says Rosenthal, I played the Gershwin 'Preludes' as a teenager, and realized later that the '2nd Prelude' was based on the blues. We play the blues on it here."
Out Of This World is the latest in a string of releases from Ted Rosenthal that find the artist constantly probing, stretching the limits of his artistry. All About Jazz called Rosenthal's earlier album One Night in Vermont, a duo project with the legendary trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, a stunning album complete with all of jazz's beloved nuances...all those stirring moments that remind you of why you need it in your life," while his solo CD, The 3 B's, received four stars from Down Beat Magazine. Impromptu, his 2010 release, also had critics raving. Said the New York Times' Nate Chinen, Classical themesby the likes of Schumann and Brahmsprovide the fodder ... What provides the substance is his playing, with its acute intellect and limpid touch."
Rosenthal has performed worldwide as a soloist, leader and sideman with many jazz greats, including Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Brookmeyer and James Moody. The winner of the 1988 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, he has released 12 CDs as a leader. He has also performed with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Jon Faddis and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Rosenthal is the pianist of choice for many top jazz vocalists, including Helen Merrill and Ann Hampton Callaway. He has appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on National Public Radio and performed with David Sanborn on NBC's Night Music. He also serves as the Artistic Director of Jazz at Dicapo in New York City.
Rosenthal's orchestral performances include solo and featured appearances with the Boston Pops, the Baltimore Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony, the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Fort Worth Symphony. A recipient of three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Rosenthal regularly performs and records his compositions, which include jazz tunes and large-scale works. He premiered and performed his second jazz piano concerto, Jazz Fantasy," in May 2011, with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. He has also composed music for dance, including Uptown," by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, premiered in New York in 2009 and currently touring around the world.
But despite all his past accomplishments, Rosenthal's focus is now somewhere else altogether, somewhere Out Of This World. This CD is a collection of Great American Songbook standards that I have been performing regularly in the last few years," he says. While I actively perform my original compositions as well as jazz adaptations of themes from the classical repertoire, performing standards has always been a mainstay of my repertoire."
Despite its intergalactic title, Out Of This World is sure to have a huge impact on anyone on terra firma who is fortunate enough to hear it.
Upcoming Concert Dates
Sept. 24, 8:00 with Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Irvington, NY
Oct. 21, 8 PM Ted Rosenthal Trio, Music Conservatory of Westchester, White Plains, NY
Oct. 28, 7:30 PM Ted Rosenthal Trio, Dix Hills Performing Arts Center, LI
Oct 30, 4 PM, Ted Rosenthal Trio, Jazz at Dicapo, Dicapo Opera Theater, NYC