Snidero Writes to Rosenwinkel’s Sounds, Concepts & Range

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“I wanted Kurt [Rosenwinkel] to kill it and he did,” saxophonist Jim Snidero says of the title track from Far Far Away.

(Photo: John Rogers)

Alto saxophonist Jim Snidero’s latest date, Far Far Away, stands as a career milestone. He’s reached the plateau of having recorded his 25th album as a leader, with his last 11 on Savant Records. While many musicians with such an oeuvre may be tempted to go on cruise control at this point, Snidero said he’s not willing to idle while he’s ensconced in such a consistently creative stretch. In fact, take a look at his last two albums: his spontaneous quartet gig on 2021’s Live At The Deer Head Inn and 2020’s bow to Korean culture, Project-K, featuring Dave Douglas.

And he’s proud of the fact that he’s got 10 million streams on the Acoustic Jazz platform for his alto saxophone tonal excursions. “The alto is a maverick,” said Snidero, who started his recording career in 1984. “It’s unforgiving to get it right. But when you master it, when you achieve control and freedom, the payoff is enormous. You can really soar like no other saxophone.”

He ups the ante for alto adventure with his Far Far Away, an album that showcases a dynamic collaboration with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. Snidero meticulously composed with Rosenwinkel in mind and enlisted the killer rhythm section of Orrin Evans on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums — the same rhythm section that graced Live At The Deer Head Inn. The new album features six originals as well as two covers, the Rodgers and Hammerstein balladic classic “It Might As Well Be Spring” and McCoy Tyner’s sober “Search For Peace.”

“I met Kurt in 2019,” Snidero said in a phone conversation from his New York home. “We talked about doing something, but then COVID threw a curveball. I wanted to make an album with Kurt because he has such an identity and has created his own pathway in his music. He’s found an overarching musicality that’s rare. As soon as we were able to make this project a reality, I started writing centered around his sound and concepts — something between an earthy and ethereal quality. And I arranged in a lot of crosscurrents between us.”

In an email exchange from his Berlin home, Rosenwinkel wrote, “I definitely felt a synergy while learning and playing the music. I enjoy the challenge of having to adapt my approach to someone else’s vision when they are writing great music. And to have the composer be actually hearing my voice while writing the material is a blessing and an honor.”

To get the quintet acquainted with the music he composed and arranged, Snidero set up a rehearsal show in August at East Hampton’s LTV Studios in Wainscott as a part of the Hamptons Jazz Festival in the South Fork of Long Island. The next day they recorded. It wasn’t just a one-off guest shot, as Snidero will tour Europe in April with three or four shows in Germany featuring the guitarist.

The album opens with the sparkling title track, which highlights Rosenwinkel’s signature fireball delivery and searing range. “I wanted Kurt to kill it and he did,” Snidero said.

“With that song and that band, you can fly,” Rosenwinkel affirmed.

Throughout the recording, Snidero’s bright power is complemented and elevated by Rosenwinkel’s dark-charcoal lines to create a colorful soundscape. When asked about this connection, the guitarist said, “I guess it was just waiting to happen. Jim has a beautiful sound, so it’s easy to gravitate to.”

The new musical friendship swings on the almost playful “Nowhere To Hide,” with Snidero taking the melodic lead and Rosenwinkel in support on a tune that the saxophonist wrote with unusual harmonic tensions. Snidero also paid homage to one of his musical heroes, the late guitarist Pat Martino, on “Pat.”

“I fell in love with the power, the time, the sound of Pat Martino,” Snidero said. “I wanted to write something that he’d play. I thought it was a perfect tune for Kurt, too, because they’re both from Philadelphia. But Kurt said he never really knew him during the time the elder was recovering. In our take, everyone in the band gets to individually pay tribute.”

A highlight of the Snidero-Rosenwinkel cooperative arrives on the soulfully reflective “It Might As Well Be Spring,” which starts in an extended duo setting before the rhythm section quietly enters. The guitarist alludes to the melody in the open before he lets Snidero take the spotlight with his clear, melancholic voice. “I told Kurt to play as long and as short as he wanted,” Snidero said. “I knew we would sound good together. This song feels so right on the alto. The range in that key is perfect. It gets to the sweet spot of the alto. It’s a pretty tune, and I put in a little tension with some different changes. I’ve been wanting to record this song for years and years.”

As to what’s coming next for Snidero? “That’s always the challenge to come up with something different,” he said. “It’s stressful to have to switch up the personnel and write new conceptual music.”

Then he harkened back to his monumental Strings (Milestone) album from 2003, an album that featured his self-taught arrangements for 14 string players performing his music. The initial New York studio date for the Bob Belden-produced album was the infamous morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, Twin Towers attacks. The session was rescheduled for the next year, with the album coming out a year after that.

Since Snidero had retained the rights after 10 years, he put the project on the back burner until Savant indicated it wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original studio date with a remastered reissue for 2021. Snidero was back into a Strings-like big picture setting, making the calls for fixes, including dubbing in bass arcos to fatten a previously thin bottom.

Snidero remembers how complex and harrowing the original Strings project was, which has him thinking that his next album will in no way be so majestic.

“No telling, but I may just pare it all down,” he muses, without sharing any specific details about his new compositions. “It’s just an idea, but we’ll see.” Given his track record, we can expect Snidero to be contemplating something distinctively new. DB



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June 2023
James Brandon Lewis
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