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Louis Rosen: “Seeking the Holiness in the Wilderness…”

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Louis Rosen: “Seeking the Holiness in the Wilderness…”Louis Rosen has, over time, revealed that he is a musician of such uncommon a genius among writers of dramatic narrative music that it may soon be less heretical – even for most avid Gershwin acolytes – to talk of his music in the same breath as they do The Master. And when you consider the epic stories that he can tell, and has told with deep understanding and with such poignancy he is in the unique position of emulating with both brothers did in his own short but remarkable career.

If Dream Suite (Di-Tone Records, 2016), his music paying homage to Langston Hughes, One Ounce of Truth – The Nikki Giovanni Songs (Di-Tone, 2008) and his other music of this past decade is any indication of the veracity of his work, then he may, indeed, already have ascended that rarefied realm.

Now there is more. These two recordings, Dust to Dust Blues and Act One: Piano Music from the Theater, further solidify his outstanding reputation. Each is a considerable musical achievement and enters the literature of musical art with the fanfare and heraldry that accompanies important musical documents.

Louis Rosen: Dust to Dust Blues Although this album by Louis Rosen an just notionally a “Blues” album it does feature a minor blues – and a rather poignant one at that – in “I’ve Seen That Movie Before” and more especially “The Left Side, Not The Right”. In form, theme and content it reflects a deep folksy tradition of American song that is sometimes reflected in The Blues as it transitioned from its own folk tradition as in “the field holler” and “primitive blues” to the more contemporary “classic blues”. Like almost all song-craft that came after the 19th century, music drew deeply from the African-American music. It could never match the elemental wail and of the bluesman, but its themes and stories of the country and the city were, nevertheless, powerful in their own way. Louis Rosen’s music comes from that corner of the country.

Often reminiscent of Woody Guthrie’s high and lonesome sound, the stories in Louis Rosen’s Dust to Dust Blues weave in and out of what seems like an epic ‘coming of age tale’. The songs are written in a style that is wry, sometimes sardonic and melancholic – even bitter – but, in the end, hope, as he sings in “Song for Charlotte” where he tells his lover early on: “…I have less and less, it’s true/But I have more love for you” and “… We will have to struggle through/But we’ll keep some dream in view/Oh, I know/Nothing less than a happy ending is due/And I have more love for you.” This kind of hope is echoed in almost all of the music. It is sung with characteristically angular and an almost eerily detached pain that puts Louis Rosen’s music so elegantly performed here by a group of fine musicians, on an elevated plane where musicians of great skill – like Stephen Sondheim – enjoy the reputation they deserve .

Track list – 1: Dust to Dust Blues; 2: I Found You; 3: Faith in Doubt; 4: I’ve Seen This Movie; 5: Peace with You; 6: Everything’s for Sale; 7: Every Soul (The Circling Race); 8: Garden Days; 9: Where Are the Traces? 10: There for You; 11: In Her Quiet Way; 12: A Soft Place to Fall; 13: The Left Side, Not the Right; 14: Song for Charlotte (More Love)

Personnel – Louis Rosen: vocals, acoustic guitar and piano; David Mansfield: lead acoustic guitar (3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12), violin (6 -14 ) and mandolin (13); Dave Phillips: contrabass (1, 3, 4, 6 – 14); Rob Moose: violin (1) and electric guitar (14); Max Moston: violin (2, 5, 9); Alissa Smith: viola (2, 5, 9); Clarice Jensen: cello (2, 5, 7, 9); C. J. Camerieri: trumpet (1, 3, 8, 10, 12, 14) and French horn (1, 10); Hideaki Aomori: bass clarinet (1), alto saxophone (3, 8, 12), flute (8, 10) and clarinet (12); Alden Banta: baritone saxophone (3); Sean McDaniel: drums and percussion (3, 6, 7, 9, 11 – 13); Gary Seligson: drums and percussion (1, 10)

Released – 2017
Label – Di-Tone Records
Runtime – 53:27

Louis Rosen: Act One: Piano Music from the Theater This is a dramatically (no pun intended) recording from Dust to Dust Blues. It is wholly instrumental and is puts to test all of Mr. Rosen’s power to create mighty themes, but to also create and describe events with pinpoint accuracy edge-of-the-seat drama, and most of all to bring all of this to life in poignant music. Mr. Rosen’s skill at making this come together in breathtaking simple and utterly remarkable piano works is what we find on this recording of fourteen segments. The writing, spotlighted by the voice of a singular instrument, is idiomatically beautiful and powerful throught these fourteen works.

The music is centred on the “Act One Suite” a work in six parts that explores several themes. Because the work is not prefaced by an overture, the surprises are as frequent as the sections themselves. The “Suite” itself takes us into a world full of glinting lights, mysterious depths, expectations, frustrations, hopes and doubts, like the shattered shadows of a sinister quasi-Mendelssohnian cadenza, glimpsed by moonlight in a forest. And in the sheer colour and variety, in the depth of its characterisation and the exceptional range and refinement of pianism, Kimberly Grigsby imparts all the power and stature that Mr. Rosen intended for the piece.

The rest of the music is by no means incidental, nor are the performances of pianists Ted Sperling, Joseph Thalken, Peter Lurie, Barbara Keller and Melissa Shifflet to me viewed in a lesser light. The music they play is performed with seductive persuasion; an object lesson in the very essence of style. Each piece is played with buoyant, aristocratic grace and with an almost insolent effortlessness. Each brings a debonair virtuosity and swagger to the performance. All in all, a world of piano styles evoked as few could even hope to try, let alone achieve.

Track list – Act One Suite Part 1: Opening: The City; Part 2: Slow Blues; Part 3: Traveling Music; Part 4: Typing Variations; Part 5: M’s Blues; Part 6: Suite Stride. Into Night and on the Verge – 7: Into Night; 8: On the Verge. Two Waltzes – 9: Waltz for Steve; 10: Waltz In 5/4. Orchards – 11: The Talking Dog; 12: Rifcula’s Ring. (One movement from) Music for Galileo – 13: Cardinal’s Waltz. (One Movement from) The Winter’s Tale Suite – 14: Pageant

Personnel – Kimberly Grigsby: piano (1 – 6); Ted Sperling and Joseph Thalken: pianos (7, 8); Peter Lurie: p [piano (9, 10); Barbara Keller and Melissa Shifflet: pianos (11, 12, 13); Barbara Keller: piano (14)

Released – 2017
Label – Di-Tone Records
Runtime – 42:21

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