Poet William Blake famously wrote of seeing the “world in a grain of sand.” Pianist/composer Renee Rosnes takes a similarly intimate look at the wondrous sweep of the natural world on her new Smoke Sessions release, Written in the Rocks. Due out February 5, 2016, the album is built around an ambitious new suite inspired by the evolution of life on Earth, captured with a sense of awe and majesty.
A sense of discovery lies at the core of “The Galapagos Suite,” which makes up the bulk of the recording and is named for the island chain that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. From the origins of life in the ocean billions of years ago through the unearthing of the human ancestor known as “Lucy” to the recent discovery of Tiktaalik, one of the earliest animals to venture out of the sea and onto the land, the progress of evolution and our own ever-evolving understanding of it, serves to inspire Rosnes’ compositional mind.
Discovery is also a key element of the music created by Rosnes and her bandmates. Saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Bill Stewart excavate the riches and mysteries from the pianist’s gorgeous, densely layered compositions. “All of us have personal and musical relationships that have been growing for decades,” Rosnes says. “As a band, we’ve developed a focused sound with a wide and nuanced palette of colors and rhythms. We play off of each other.”
These colors prove ideal to paint the musical landscapes that Rosnes’ writing evokes, spanning billions of years and monumental shifts in biological history. Her love of nature comes from far more personal origins, however: her childhood in the Pacific Northwest of Canada. “I’ve always felt inspired by nature,” she explains.
“The infinite blue-green hues of coastal British Columbia are in my blood. My family’s home sat at the bottom of a street that opened up into a deep ravine, and a half hour’s drive from there, the city lights were dim enough to offer an astonishing view of the night sky,” the pianist reminisces.
“Salty air, the smell of seaweed, the relentless pounding of waves, and the agreeable aroma of cedar – all of these provide me with spiritual nourishment and inspiration. To compose music about our planet’s evolution was a stimulating concept and one brimming with possibilities.”
In discussing her inspiration for this important and rewarding set of music, Rosnes quotes Picasso: “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” On Written in the Rocks, those emotions pour forth from the natural world to resonant and lushly detailed compositions realize through expressive, vital playing by a profoundly connected quintet. And it only took a few short billion years to get here.
“Written in the Rocks” was recorded live in New York at Sear Sound’s Studio C
on a Sear-Avalon custom console at 96KHz/24bit and mixed to ½” analog tape
using a Studer mastering deck. Available in audiophile HD format.
Renee Rosnes · Written in the Rocks
Smoke Sessions Records · Release Date: February 5, 2015