Thursday, June 19, 2008

Denny Zeitlin

Cathexis (Columbia, 1963) Balancing a medical residency with a budding jazz career, pianist Denny Zeitlin made his debut as a leader with a trio record that placed equal focus on jazz standards and original performances. He is accompanied by Cecil McBee on bass and Fredrick Waits on drums. Zeitlin's approach is refreshing and unique, and while he's obviously absorbed much of the driving bop and hard-bop technique of Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk and others, as well as classical training, he has his own conception that he brings to the music, which is a percussive and muscular technique the occasionally hints at dissonance, but never strays too far from melodic ideas. The covers he performs on this record include an impressionistic meditation on Monk's “'Round Midnight”, backed but just bass, and also a swinging version of Gershwin's “Soon” and a an interesting version of “Nica's Tempo” originally by Gigi Grice. Of the originals, the hard driving and frenetic “Stonehenge” and the lengthy suite “Blue Phoenix” which charts the trajectory of the mythical bird through music are the most interesting.

Trio (Windam Hill, 1988) Finds Dr. Zeitlin almost twenty five years down the road, still sounding remarkably similar, but having refined his sound in the intervening years. Equally split once again between originals and covers, he his joined on this record by Joel DeBartolo on bass and Peter Donald on drums. Jazz standards this time out include moody versions of Charles Mingus' elegy for Lester Young “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” and J.J. Johnson's beautiful “Lament.” A buoyant performance of “All The Things You Are” and and adventurous exploration of Ornette Coleman's “Turnaround” round out the cover tunes. Originals include the bouncy and infectious “ Brazilian Street Dance” and the thoughtful and meditative “Rolling Hills.”

These were both good solid records, mixing the traditional and the exploratory in equal amounts. Zeitlin has recorded infrequently since, balancing the demands of his medical and musical practice, he has most recently recorded a series of albums for the MaxJazz label.

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