an album in three acts
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I Don't Know Anything
Louis Rosen is certainly a multi-talented individual. He is a composer, singer-guitarist, author, and lyricist, writing for the theater and stage. He learned important lessons directly from both Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. In the past he has had projects in which he put the poems of major African-American poets (including Langston Hughes) to music.
I Don't Know Anything, which is subtitled An Album In Three Acts, has 16 pieces that are entirely Rosen's music and lyrics (other than two songs that he co-wrote with Arthur Perlman). The composer is featured as a singer and acoustic guitarist, joined by guitarist David Mansfield, a rhythm section, a few strings, and occasional horns.
While the music is programmed in three acts, there is not one dominant theme to the lyrics so it does not really function as a play. Instead, the individual pieces shine by themselves, with the music ranging from the swinging "Guru, Please Tell Me" to folk music, a bit of country, and classical.
The lyrics include such topics as taking chances and stretching oneself ("Before The Window Closes"), knowing that the longer one lives, the less one knows ("I Don't Know Anything"), wondering about the mysteries of life ("Guru, Please Tell Me"), a light-hearted look at the joy of growing old ("My Third Act"), and having a sweet dream interrupted by a nothing phone call ("Unknown Name, Unknown Number").
While the music is largely outside of jazz, Louis Rosen's philosophical lyrics and the high-quality playing by his sidemen make I Don't Know Anything worth hearing by those who are open to other genres of music. It is available from www.louisrosen.com
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Louis Rosen: I Don’t Know Anything: An Album in Three Acts
Alix Cohen | January 8, 2020 | 0 Comments
I Don’t Know Anything: An Album in Three Acts
January 1, 2020
Reviewed by Alix Cohen
As signified by photos of his 17-year-old self facing his 61-year-old self, Louis Rosen’s ninth CD “suggests the possibility of a circle closing, integration of then and now.” A philosopher-poet, Rosen is the kind of highly literate singer-songwriter whose musical oeuvre seems set in the late 1960s when the breed was more common. Excepting the droll, contemporary blues, “Unknown Name, Unknown Number,” lyrics address past and present with one foot in each.
Rosen is a meticulous orchestrator. It wasn’t until a second listen that I picked up all the nuanced contributions. The musicians are first class. There’s an overall sound here which makes the CD homogenous and a smooth listen-through, though it might have been a bit more varied. The artist’s appealing voice is fleece-like, considered.
“Before the Window Closes” emerges as a note to one’s creative self, a time conscious, carpe diem. A reminiscence of a youthful affair with “Kathleen O’Toole” (written with Art Perlman) has the haunting quality of a classic folk song. Marialena DiFabbio’s harmony unfurls ghostly. Were it not for a lyric about potentially finding Kathleen “with a click,” the song would be timeless. The violin is lovely; horns create shadows; the vocal is airbrushed.
“I Don’t Know Anything” is a meditative, kicking oneself chant. Slow breathing tempo and pristine guitar (heartstrings?) waft. On its heels, the infectious rockabilly rhythm of “Guru, Please Tell Me” arrives in direct, appealing contrast to universal questions. Incongruity (with which we’re surrounded these days) is nifty.
The dystopian, groove-driven “Limitless World” was apparently written the day after Trump secured his nomination: “where anger and fear may trump all belief, and a well-heeled huckster can be Commander-in-Chief.” It speaks of the “soul-killing hunger” with which most of us have grown much too familiar. Deft crosscurrents add vibraphone, drums, and acoustic bass to the classical string trio Y Music Ensemble.
Between each of the three acts is an evocative instrumental. The first features Andrew Sterman’s beautiful clarinet; it’s contrite, but curiously not sad, and it’s quite moving. The second, spotlighting C.J. Camerieri’s mellifluous trumpet, conjures respite in a gliding boat.
The title song of the album’s second act is “My Third Act,” a wry, cinematic shrug with Woody Guthrie/Pete Seeger guitar treatment: “…felt this mutual attraction/finally asked her on a date. She said ‘You remind me of my dad/this might be fun.’ I said, ‘Call me Pops/my third act has begun.’”
Two graceful farewell songs indicate time has, indeed, passed since this journey began. In the first, “What Are the Odds?” (written with Art Perlman) “she would ask me. Is there a life after life on earth? ‘What is the point,’ she would grumble.” Characters play another hand of gin and let the questions pass. The deathbed scene is palpably tender, reconciled. The second, “In the Hour of His Leaving” engages as a dignified eulogy.
Rosen tells me “Morning Soul” was written when he was 18. Rediscovering it, he decided the song made “a fitting coda. I also like that, as the only pure love song on the album, it suggests a new beginning.” It’s impossible not to hear the hope in that phrase, despite the gravitas of the material to which I just listened. Sentiment arrives with a less curated vocabulary here. The song is honest and sweetly grateful.
Louis Rosen (and band) will be at Birdland January 26 to celebrate this CD.
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"I've been listening to Louis Rosen's new album, I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING (Di-tone Records), and it's nearly impossible for me to express how moved I am by it. The songs are knowing and powerful and the composing and orchestrations are some of his best yet. And as always, the production is pristine, intimate and seamless. Bravo!" Jeremy Gerard, Broadway News and Theater News Online
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Louis Rosen’s “I Don’t Know Anything: An Album in Three Acts”
Brings Back Music That Says So Much
Birdland Theater hosted the award-winning composer/arranger Louis Rosen to celebrate the release of his ninth album, “I Don’t Know Anything”. This new album is sixteen-song cycle, in Three Acts,” with the title of each “act” offering a clue to the arc of the work: Act One – “I Don’t Know Anything”; Act Two – “My Third Act”; and Act Three: “A First Farewell”.
Louis’s music on this album blends folk, strands of country, jazz, rock and blues with sounds of another world. The lyrics cut to the soul of a man searching for himself. His lyrics remind me of Joni Mitchell and the album a little like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon”.
On the album Louis has the lead and harmony vocals, as well as plays acoustic and nylon string guitar. David Mansfield is on electric guitar and acoustic and nylon guitar. Rob Moose adds violin, viola and electric guitar, while CJ Camerieri is on trumpet and french horn. Hideaki Aomori on flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, alto saxophone and tenor saxophone. Nadia Sirota on viola, Max Moston on violin;Viola, Gabriel Cabezas, Sarah Roth-Hewitt and Clarice Jensen on cello, Andrew Sterman on clarinet, Erik Charlston on Vibraphone, Dave Phillips on acoustic and electric bass, Gary Seligson on drums & percussion and Marialena Difabbio lending harmony vocals.
Some of my favorite songs: The opening track, Before the Window Closes, is life in all its innocence, before doubt slinks in.
Kathleen O’Toole is an affair that is begun, when infatuated by an older woman. Musically, it is a haunting Celtic sounding folk song. Marialena DiFabbio’s harmonies, along with the violin motifs and the horns create the shadows of the past.
The meditative I Don’t Know Anything, is a conversation between guitar, violin, cello, electric guitar, vibraphone and drums, but it also about how we start again and again reinventing ourselves. “The canvas is white – that’s where I start. I look at the sky, I open my heart. I don’t know anything”.
Guru, Please Tell Me, questions life and ponders the answers with a pounding rockabilly kick.
The instrumental Acquainted With Night, stunningly played by Andrew Sterman is, is a moment of reflections and contemplation.
“Act Two” begins with My Third Act, which has a Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan kind of feel.
Slow Goes the Night, has a classical feel, as well as an oriental feel that drives the sleeplessness of the lyric.
The second instrumental interlude, Later Than Never, sounds Middle-Eastern with a feeling of longing. This is the kind of song that I wish there were lyrics to.
“Act Three”: A First Farewell” begins with a Latin cha-cha feel in I Song This Song for You. Another start to life, or is it a last hurrah?
What Are the Odds?, co-written with Art Perlman, asks, “Is there a life after life on earth?” In the Hour of His Leaving is a death of sorts. Has Rosen written his own eulogy?
Morning Soul, feels pure and hopeful. A wonderful way to end an album.
I recommend this album to every music lover out there. You will feel as if you have been on a journey of the soul and are renewed and ready for more.
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