Rosetta, the title of bassist Stephan Crump’s third self-produced CD as a leader, conjures up a bunch of disparate images; the Rosetta Stone, the title of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s film about the struggles of an impoverished teenage girl, an ornamentation on a cake or a piece of fabric, the European Space Agency mission to rendezvous with a comet, or simply a woman’s name. The music on Rosetta has a similar effect - these unassuming, deceptively simple pieces for acoustic bass, electric guitar (played by Jamie Fox) and acoustic guitar (played by Liberty Ellman) seems to spring from many genres - jazz, folk, country, blues - while not clearly belonging to any of them. From the first listen, this quietly beautiful and supremely human music engaged me like the beginning of a great novel, or a long conversation with an old friend.
Nashville-bred, Crump’s resume includes significant work with singer-songwriter Jen Chapin (also his wife), Johnny Copeland, Bruce Springsteen, Gordon Gano, and Lucy Kaplansky, as well as work with jazz luminaries new (Vijay Iyer, Bobby Previte, Liberty Ellman) and not-so-new (Billy Hart, Dave Liebman, Eddie Henderson, and Ernie Watts to name a few). For my money, it is this sort of open-minded commitment to the art and craft of music without respect to genre that fuels the sort of creativity it takes to create a CD on the level of "Rosetta". This trio, though led by Crump, is definitely a cooperative musical venture - their interplay so casual as to be conversational, almost offhand at times. Acoustic guitarist Liberty Ellman is the most well-known, having recorded a few well-regarded CDs as a leader of his own ensembles, and a couple with one of my favorite musicians - Henry Threadgill. Jamie Fox, on electric guitar, is less well-known to me. He was featured on Crump’s previous recording "Tuckahoe," and on "Rosetta" - like Crump and Ellman - he proves to be a player of uncommon depth and ability. His effects-free electric and Ellman’s acoustic function really well as distinct voices in what I had feared to be a somewhat monochromatic environment.
The tunes are a varied lot, though all are ceaselessly interesting and emotionally deep. I had expected a lot of sweet, bucolic, rural-folksy stuff. A few tracks, namely "Residual", "Carrousel en Verre" and "Rosie" almost fit that Frisell-oid bill, but each of these pieces has so much else going on that I am loath to put them in any sort of pre-conceived bag. "Carrousel en Verre," has a palpable tinge of sadness and poignancy, as it is a tribute to a close friend of Crump's who perished in the World Trade Center disaster. The more abstract, playful side of the trio emerges on the dank, spooky "Kudzu" which is the aural equivalent of searching for one’s dropped car keys in the dark along the side of a remote Florida highway. "Were It A Loss" and "Residual" are episodic, delicate, and almost Bach-like, though "Residual" has a distinctly jazzy bridge. "Our Survival" starts in a similar fashion, but evolves from a multi-sectioned atmospheric, ECM-ish chamber jazz piece into an exultant jamming vehicle from which Crump, Fox and Ellman each spin wonderful solos. Fetching melodies are everywhere, and several of the tunes, the title piece for example, have a profundity, warmth, and emotional impact that I hear on no more than a few CDs every year. If I had a ’10 Best’ list for 2006, Rosetta would certainly be in it. A beautiful recording. Highly recommended.