A player who writes - or a writer who plays? Jeff Zelnick performs so capably in both areas on his debut CD that it could be a toss-up. As a writer, Zelnick composed all selections on More Than the Blues except the old Eartha Kitt favorite, "C'est Si Bon." As a player, he meshes beautifully with fellow front-liner Valery Ponomarev and solos with warmth and assurance throughout. I don't know who Zelnick's influences are, but three of them have to be Phil Woods, Jackie McLean and Cannonball Adderley. In fact, with Ponomarev sitting in for Cannon's brother, Nat (but playing trumpet, not flugel) the session often reminds one of Adderley's late lamented quintet. Ponomarev, an underrated improviser with plenty to say, matches Zelnick note for note, and is especially impressive on "There, There!" (on which Zelnick sounds at times like Woods), the slashing opener, "Ten," and "C'est Si Bon." Valery steps aside on the session's lone ballad, "Joanna's Sweet Smile," as Zelnick offers a warmhearted narrative that would put a smile on anyone's face. The rhythm section, all of whose members were new to me, does a commendable job in its back-up role. Rosenthal, an appealing soloist with a prodigious right hand, is an ever-alert and responsive accompanist as well. The titular "Blues" swings handsomely, as do Zelnick's other compositions, "Let Me Ask You This" and "When Then Was Now." An exemplary debut that sails buoyantly through the middle of Jazz's post-bop mainstream.
Ten; Let Me Ask You This; C'est Si Bon; Joanna's Sweet Smile; A Little More Than the Blues; When Then Was Now; There, There! (53:25).
Jeff Zelnick, alto saxophone; Valery Ponomarev, trumpet; Alan Rosenthal, piano; Steve Doyle, bass; Eric Halvorson, drums.