Dann Zinn 4: Grace's Song (2013)
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Saxophonist Dann Zinn's third release as a leader, Grace's Song, is an intriguing and charismatic album. Interestingly, however, the very feature that makes it consistently engaging also results in a lack of thematic unity. This unevenness can simultaneously delight and frustrate, depending on circumstances.
Zinn is a virtuoso tenor saxophonist inspired by saxophone master Sonny Rollins' brassy and thick sound and sophisticated, recognizable style. Zinn's eloquent, passionate solo burst out of pianist Taylor Eigsti's percussive chords with darkly modal hints on "Live and Learn." His intricate impromptu construct is tightly woven over the percolating rhythm section and, although it wanders far from the original melody, it never meanders aimlessly or becomes abstruse.
Elsewhere, on Sting's "King of Pain," Zinn's undulating tenor unravels with Levantine mysticism like a fairy tale, over drummer Alan Hall's primal beats, which nicely contrast with Eigsti's understated and introspective sonata. Eigsti brings a wistful undercurrent that satisfyingly completes this enchanting tune.
This kind of duality characterizes other tracks on the disc, such as the haunting and cinematic "Western Skies." Zinn's electric saxophone echoes the main theme over galloping rhythms, creating a dusty, far-west ambience. Eigsti's angular and intricate improvisation, with its modal hints, enhance this overall western soundtrack feel. Meanwhile, the vaguely eastern flavor of Zinn's ardent and acerbic tone exquisitely balances the piece as he takes his turn in the spotlight.
Perhaps the boldest and the most unique composition is the contemplative, sax-driven "Red Rover," with its boppish undertones. Zinn's modal saxophone stretches out over Hall's complex and propulsive polyrhythms. Bassist John Shifflett's edgy, intelligent and unfettered extemporization matches Zinn's own free-flowing ideas, making this pensive music quite thought-provoking and intellectually satisfying.
Not the entire record, however, maintains this experimental and explorative rigor. On the funky "Corazon," Zinn's smooth tone flirts heavily with instrumental pop but with enough creative embellishments to askew a full embrace. The energetic and appealing "Jumpstep" is catchy without any extensive improvisations, showcasing Zinn's, vibrato-filled, delightfully laidback groove as Eigsti tastefully adorns the song with classically influenced harmonies.
The title ballad and the closing standard, "Stardust," are also quite alluring without the edgy sense of adventureboth quite mellifluous without being syrupy. "Grace's Song" starts off as a lullaby with heady, shimmering lines, and closes with Zinn's soulful, vaguely R&B-ish solo, while "Stardust" is replete with late night romancebut with only a dash of spontaneity.
Without a doubt, Zinn is fast emerging as an adroit composer and agile improviser with a compellingly singular voice. The duality that manifests itself here can be viewed as both a reflection of this versatility and an indecisive restlessness. Regardless, Grace's Song remains enjoyable and stimulating, even after multiple spins.
Track Listing: Live and Learn; Western Skies; Grace's Song; Jumpstep; King of Pain; Corazon; Red
Personnel: Dann Zinn: tenor saxophone; Taylor Eigsti: piano; John Shifflett: bass; Alan Hall: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced