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Stephan Crump And Rosetta Trio: Purity Of Intent

Jazz listeners may recognize bassist Stephan Crump as a member of pianist Vijay Iyer's acclaimed trio, but his own music inhabits a much quieter space in his bass-and-two-guitars ensemble, Rosetta Trio.

Just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Crump wrote a series of lithe yet emotionally complex material for a chamber-style setting of three string instruments. In 2005, he brought together two guitarists, Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox, in his Brooklyn apartment. Each had played with Crump separately, but never together.

"I had a hunch that there would be some cool chemistry," Crump says. "I suppose you could characterize this as purity, but whenever the three of us get together now, we've been playing for enough years to have found an identity. It's an ongoing conversation that we rekindle when we play, and there's definitely a beauty to that."

On Reclamation, the trio's second release, the connection among the musicians -- and to the material -- is highly engaged, and the result sounds vast, quiet and roomy.

"A lot of the expressive quality of the acoustic bass is easily covered up," the bassist says. "The louder the ensemble, the more the bass gets masked. So this is a nice opportunity to let things breathe a little more."

In this WBGO session for The Checkout, Rosetta Trio plays four songs from Reclamation: "Memphis," "Overreach," "The Leaves the Rain" and "Silogism." Listen for a certain bareness in emotion. It's... pure.

"I've never tossed that word around with this, but it's harmonious with how I perceive music," Crump says. "It's like a pure, blank canvas, and we're choosing what colors to put where."

"Memphis" is Crump's reconnection to his hometown.

"I grew up there in the '70s, and I didn't appreciate until I left to what degree music and creativity and the arts are and were in the air, in the soil and in the Mississippi River."

Then there's a literal interpretation.

"I've been inspired a lot by being in New York City, and experiencing different communities in Brooklyn and around the city, especially on my bicycle," Crump, a proud pedal pusher of a classic three-speed Schwinn, says.

"Riding my bike around, I feel like a scuba diver in the middle of the city," he says. "I really feel like I'm exploring. There are so many derelict, post-industrial zones that are being reclaimed. That level of reclamation is also an inspiration."

When the rubber meets the road, the music is Crump's real inspiration.

"As challenging as it is to make a life in music, I love the fact that I always have an outlet," he says. "The more you make a career out of it, the more responsibility and challenge you have to maintain the purity of that outlet and make sure you're staying in touch with why you're making music in the first place."

Copyright 2010 WBGO

Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.
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