Denny Zeitlin, piano, synthesizer
We applaud MAXJAZZ for slowly but surely acquiring a stable of excellent instrumentalists and singers. This is Denny Zeitlin's second album for the label, and there are moments, many moments, of real beauty to be heard.
Zeitlin's "Bemsha Swing" has less of Monk than a somewhat Tatumesque lightness and brightness, with the bubbling sense of fun that Tatum gave to his playing. This approach is of some consequence in Zeitlin's music, for even what could be termed somber pieces have an inner quality that simply does not bring you down. There is whimsy, a faraway look at things, but no desperate sadness. You may indeed hear the stuff of a wry grin, a philosophical shrug of acceptance, a bleak landscape that somehow manages to sparkle-all set in an enchanting exploration of some truly magical themes. In other words, the perfect measure of a solo album.
The Solo Voyage suite begins, of course, with "Prelude"-which is a piece of free improvisation. We are then taken into Brubeck's lovely "In Your Own Sweet Way"-but this time done in Zeitlin's own sweet way with a synth backing and a barely touched-upon melody.
Cahn's "I Should Care" is again given a synth backing to the piano, and the melody is given full attention. There are then four Zeitlin originals-with J. J. Johnson's "Lament" placed between-and a great deal of reflective improvisation.
Having written all that, I then (I didn't cheat) looked into the liner notes and see that Solo Voyage is Zeitlin's gift to a friend who was eventually to die of cancer. With a chum like Zeitlin, the friend must have certainly gone to heaven, perhaps even (and I mean no disrespect) with a wry smile on his face. One of the most satisfying records of this year and highly recommended.
By Lawrence Brazier