Renee Rosnes Quartet At Keystone Korner!

Jazz Buddies,

Last Sunday evening (3/12/23), I had a chance to catch the final night of the Renee Rosnes Quartet weekend engagement at Baltimore’s Keystone Korner!  The great pianist featured a stellar all-star cast of vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash.

Rosnes, a Vancouver, British Columbia native, arrived on the NYC Jazz scene in 1985, quickly establishing a name for herself through stints with many Jazz legends and luminaries, including: Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, J.J. Johnson, Buster Williams, and James Moody.

My first recollection of Ms. Rosnes was her appearance on the 1989 Blue Note album by the Jazz sextet O.T.B. (Out Of The Blue), titled Spiral Staircase.  O.T.B., assembled by Blue Note Records in 1985, featured a roster of young lions and recorded three prior albums.

Rosnes’ first-call, “Dream Team” rhythm mates, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, are celebrated alumni of the Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and the Betty Carter Trio graduate schools, respectively, both internationally recognized and accredited “Institutions of Higher Swingin’ ”.  And both gentlemen were bandmates in the Tommy Flanagan Trio from the early 1990s until his passing in 2001.  Highly sought after by fellow musicians, Washington and Nash have tallied over 500 studio recording sessions apiece!

The great vibraphonist and Pittsburgh native, Steve Nelson, is known most prominently for his work in the bands of the great bassist and bandleader Dave Holland since the 1990s.  For me, his melodic, cerebral, and hard-swinging playing reminds me of Milt “Bags” Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson.  I first discovered Nelson’s fine mallet work via his first two studio albums, titled Communications and Full Nelson, recorded in 1987 and 1989 on the Criss Cross and Sunnyside labels, respectively.  His playing on Mulgrew Miller’s The Sequel album (2002) also caught my attention.

Because Renee Ros!es is such an outstanding pianist, arranger, and composer, I’ve always made it a point over the years to catch various iterations of her quartet as often as possible, with alto saxophonist (Steve Wilson), tenor saxophonist (Jimmy Green), or vibraphonist (Steve Nelson), as well as hear her perform as part of Ron Carter’s quartet and Buster Williams’ “Something More” quartet.  Not bad company at all… :v)

Both outstanding sets on Sunday offered delightful servings of Jazz standards, classics, ballads, and originals, as well as some Shorter, Hutcherson, and Carter compositions, providing several opportunity for band members to showcase their improvisational, melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic wizardry.

The 1st set opened with Ron Carter’s “Einbahnstrasse”, sounding very reminiscent of MJQ playing chamber music, although swingin’ very hard!!!

On the mid-tempo “Summer Night”, while trading fours, Nash gave a mesmerizing, head-shaking clinic on how to be creative, imaginative, fresh, and rhythmic, all the while staying “in the pocket”.  While inquiring between sets how he manages the creativity and while soloing and trading fours, he recalled how his first employer, Ms. Betty Carter, who called him “Kid” the entire time during his four-year tenure, would stand behind him during rehearsals and say, “I heard that before, Kid!  Play something else!!!”

Renee & Company then continued with two wonderful compositions by the great Bobby Hutcherson: the groundbreaking “Now” and the very melodic “Little B’s Poem” (for his young son, Barry), with Nelson contributing very nice solos on both.

As a tribute to the great Wayne Shorter, who’d passed a week earlier, Renee then played a beautiful solo piano rendition of Shorter’s “Diana”, written for percussionist Airto (Moreira) and vocalist’s Flora Purim’s daughter.

The 1st set closed with the percussive Afro-Cuban rhythms of “Tin Tin Deo”, made famous by Dizzy Gillespie. 

The 2nd set opened with classic tunes from Miles Davis and Chick Corea.  And the quartet wasted no time getting back into the groove with tasty solos and trading fours with Nash.  The pace then slowed down for the beautiful ballad, “You Know I Care”, by Duke Pearson.

The 2nd set provided ample opportunity for Renee to showcase her excellent writing and arranging abilities via three very melodic compositions: “Life Does Not Wait”, “Galapagos”, “Modinha”.  Renee & Company then played The Duke’s very bluesy, foot-tappin’ “Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool”.

“Galapagos” closed the 2nd set, with Nash offering up another unforgettable, take-no-prisoners drum solo!   Following a very enthusiastic standing ovation from my fellow patrons, the quartet returned for a brief encore offering of “Modinhana”.

This evening’s complete set list:

1st set

  • Einbahnstrasse (R. Carter)
  • Jitterbug Waltz (F. Waller)
  • Embraceable You (G. Gershwin / I. Gershwin)
  • Summer Night (H. Warren / A. Dubin)
  • Now (B. Hutcherson)
  • Little B’s Poem (B. Hutcherson)
  • Diana (W. Shorter)
  • Tin Tin Deo (G. Fuller / C. Pozo) Gillespie)

2nd Set

  • Rouge (M. Davis)
  • Tones For Joan’s Bones (C. Corea)
  • You Know I Care (D. Pearson)
  • Life Does Not Wait (A Vida Não Espera) (R. Rosnes)
  • Mr. Gentle And Mr. Cool (D. Ellington)
  • Galapagos (R. Rosnes)
  • Modinha (Encore) (R. Rosnes)

A wonderful evening of Jazz from an extraordinary set of musicians – the Renee Rosnes Quartet!  Yep, it doesn’t much better than this!!! :v)