By Hrayr Attarian
Marlene Rosenberg – Bass, voice (3)
Kenny Barron – Piano
Lewis Nash – Drums
Christian McBride – Bass (3, 9)
Thomas Burrell – Voice (3)
Robert Irving III – Voice (3)
Both as an educator and mentor to younger generations, as well as an accomplished composer and bassist, Marlene Rosenberg is a mainstay of Chicago’s creative music scene. Her rich and varied career playing with such greats as saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Ed Thigpen is not as well documented on recordings as it could be. In fact, there are only a handful of releases with her as a side musician and four under her own leadership. The latest of these is the timely and poignant MLK Convergence.
MLK, in addition to being the initials for the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., are the first initials of the trio. Following “M” for Marlene, the “L” is for drummer Lewis Nash, who drives the music with his understated and nuanced polyrhythms. The “K” stands for Kenny Barron, whose sophisticated stylings grace the album. For example, Barron embellishes the theme of Rosenberg’s “American Violet” with suave spontaneity and virtuoso, blues-tinged chords. The soulful tune also features Rosenberg’s eloquent and lyrical improvisation.
Barron’s own “Rain” is darkly hued and cinematic. Nash’s sparse beats endow it with a haunting sound. Among reverberating cymbals and chiming keys, Rosenberg takes center stage with bittersweet tones and resonant pizzicato notes. Barron contributes softly undulating phrases to this impressionistic and wistful nocturne.
Equally dramatic and poetic is the another Rosenberg original, “Circle Story.” Barron’s cascading keys and Nash’s thrums and thuds mix with Rosenberg’s yearning strings for a mellifluous collective performance. Barron extemporizes with contemplation while Rosenberg does it with sublime melancholy.
Two of the tracks are Stevie Wonder covers. The more memorable of these is the achingly gorgeous “Visions.” Rosenberg bows the melody with tenderness as she inventively deconstructs it. There is understated passion expressed in the trio’s interpretation of this emotive and captivating piece.
The social consciousness that is an undercurrent of the entire session bursts open in righteous outrage on the collaborative “Not the Song I Wanna Sing.” The alternating spoken word and vocals expand over a swaggering cadence. Rosenberg, together with Thomas Burrell and Robert Irving III, expresses indignation over current injustices in fiery rhyme. Guest bassist Chrisian McBride exhibits his ingenuity with a breathtakingly agile solo that mimics, in its sinewy lines, the fervor of the lyrics.
A mature and cohesive recording, MLK Convergence is Rosenberg’s best work to date. Showcasing her writing skills as well as her synergy with her august bandmates, the record stimulates and delights both on an emotive and cerebral level.