Rich Rosenthal developed a love for not just jazz but for the most adventurous kinds of jazz when he was barely a teenager, and the budding guitarist aspired early on to be among the ranks of Sun Ra, Sam Rivers, Bill Dixon and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But in choosing a career that’s so underappreciated and not exactly lucrative, Rosenthal had to first overcome his parents’ discouragement and the shackles of addiction before he could push forward again, but he did.
Graduating from The New School’s jazz studies program and learning under such inspirational mentors such as Dave Moreno, Andrew Cyrille, Reggie Workman and Bruce Arnold brought him closer to his life’s goals. Soon, he found himself performing with the likes of Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Chris Kelsey and Mark Dresser.
All this has culminated into his first album, Falling Up.
Rosenthal has waited a long time before leading a date, but he knew exactly how he wanted to make it. He knew he wanted Giardullo, a soprano sax master, on the record. He had to look longer for his rhythm section but got the right fits with electric bassist Craig Nixon and drummer Matt Crane.
The primary thing that jumps out about Rosenthal’s guitar playing is that it might sound familiar, but not because he sounds like other avant-garde guitarists; he modeled himself from primarily the non-guitarists of the free jazz field, like Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman.
And also sax great Jimmy Lyons. Like Lyons, Rosenthal turns Charlie Parker phrasings loose into the frontier of jazz;: it’s readily apparent on the barely contained out-bop of “Powder Hysteria” and even the experimental raw rock roar of the rousing album-ending “Eternal Meltdown.” On the former he’s searching with a combination of single line and fractured chords while on the latter he fires off free jazz clusters through a tube-y amp. Lyons’ influence becomes even more present on a rendition of Lyons’ “Wee Sneezawee,” a jaunty walk well outside, and the rhythm section seems to anticipate his every flittering and unpredictable move.
Giardullo shows much range, playing spare and ethereal on the diffused, ghostly numbers like “Airing Out” and “Falling Up,” while charging ahead with rage when he takes the lead reins during “Eternal Meltdown.”
There are other delights elsewhere – like the endless variations of a three-note theme that defines Steve Lacy’s “No Baby,” for instance.
The raw energy, emotion and vibrancy of free jazz is what gives Rich Rosenthal reason to live, and he pour those attributes into his album. Falling up is the kind of outside jazz album can only come from a passionate, veteran first-timer such as him.