Steve Smith/Michael Zilber: Reimagined, Vol. 1: Jazz Standards (2003)
Saxophonist/arranger Michael Zilber has been "Zilberizing" popular and jazz standards for more than twenty years, and drummer Steve Smith, with whom he has played in various groups for the past six, suggested that he record an album of his "reimagined" tunes, which is what we have here. Reimagining, writes Zilber, is "the process where[by] everything in the tune except some form of the melody (sometimes rewritten) is fair game, from changes to meter to form to tempo."
The album's subtitle is "Jazz Standards," which holds true for much of the material, the possible exceptions being Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim's "Somewhere" (from the Broadway musical West Side Story ) and the Gershwin brothers" "How Long Has This Been Going On?," which certainly has been played by a number of jazz musicians in various contexts over the years.
The bottom line, of course, is does "Zilberizing" work? And the anwer is, most of the time surprisingly well. While one has to listen closely at times, the melodies are indeed recognizable, even at greatly altered tempos, as is the case with Ellington's somber "Mood Indigo," which here sounds more like "Mood Euphoric." In fact, Zilber doesn't go as far as other jazz musicians, especially boppers, who have taken standards and completely rewritten them to produce entirely "new" compositions ("I Got Rhythm," to use only one example, has been recomposed dozens if not scores of times and credited to its author as an "original"). Zilber is more interested in reharmonizing, introducing new keys and tempos while leaving the melody, if not intact, at least identifiable. It's a challenge, one that Zilber, Smith, pianist Paul Nagel and bassist John Shifflett eagerly accept.
Zilber, a superb technician whose influences include John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker and other modernists, plays soprano sax on three selections, tenor on the others. He's a resourceful improviser, as is Nagel, who shines whenever his number is called. Besides the songs already mentioned, the quartet "Zilberizes" compositions by Trane, Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, Dizzy Gillespie and Juan Tizol. The music is often invigorating, and never less than engaging. If you've been looking for contemporary jazz that's accessible but slightly off the beaten path, this could be the answer.
Contact: Bluejay Records, 150 Bridge St., Manchester, MA 01944. Web site, www.bluejayrecords.com
Track Listing: All Blues; Mood Indigo; Freedom Jazz Dance; Somewhere; Impressions; Manteca; Solar; Giant Steps; How Long Has This Been Going On??; Caravan; Countdown (63:23).
Personnel: Steve Smith, drums; Michael Zilber, tenor, soprano sax; Paul Nagel, piano; John Shifflett, bass.