On a night about five years ago at the now-defunct Radio Valencia, multireed instrumentalist Scott Rosenberg offered a show intent on disrupting audience expectations. Snaking across the floor and crawling beneath tables, Rosenberg knocked over bottles and cans and generally made a humorous ruckus before lurching into an intense improv performance.
Since that time, the 29-year-old Bay Area native has mined a similarly ambitious vein. On nine recordings and in numerous performances (including regular concerts in his new hometown of Chicago), Rosenberg has attempted to reconcile the paradoxes of “creative music” by upending the form's stereotypical seriousness and weighty musicianship. Rosenberg's wide-ranging works — from big band to solo, completely composed to 100 percent spontaneous — are rewarding both intellectually and physically, offering equal parts humor and seriousness, complexity and simplicity.
On Compositions Improvisations 2000, his inspired collaboration with fellow multireed veteran Anthony Braxton, Rosenberg plays contrabass clarinet and sopranino, alto, and tenor saxophones with a brazen physicality and a heady feel for intricacy. Each track unfolds with jazz's strong sense of player-to-player communication and compositional spirit, while also delivering accumulative, pointillistic rhythms that push the sounds beyond standard notions of swing.
Rosenberg's new CD, Solo, ventures farther afield, bypassing traditional structure and harmony for experiments that are both sober and comic. Here, all the pieces have alien-ish, onomatopoeic titles that hint at the sounds within: The gremlinlike horn on “Pwyyyyrnnnyy” sounds simultaneously cute and ferocious, while the 45-second, jugular-busting blowout “Brbbrtttybbyynk” mimics an industrial nightmare. The album is a deeply musical extrapolation, one that some might argue isn't music at all. In fact, Rosenberg is following in the footsteps of artists as divergent as noise act Merzbow and “new music” maverick John Cage, forward thinkers who have organized pieces outside the formal construct of melody. In the end, Rosenberg's definition of music is a matter of personal interpretation, and, ultimately, preconception.