Steeplechase: Peter Zak & Tom Guarna
Steeplechase producer Nils Winther has long been a champion of promising artists who deserve to record as leaders but have generally been overlooked. Once signed, many artists have long tenures with the label.
Pianist Peter Zak split his youth between Ohio and California, working on the West Coast with saxophonists Frank Morgan and John Handy before relocating to New York City. His fourth SteepleChase CD Seeds of Sin reunites him with bassist Paul Gill, who worked with him on two previous outings, while drummer Quincy Davis is a newcomer to the trio.
Zak chooses an interesting mix of older songs. His lush, deliberate interpretation of Eubie Blake's "Memories of You" and the bouncing "All Day Long" (an obscure Billy Strayhorn swinger) are enjoyable. Jackie McLean's hard-charging "Minor Apprehension" showcases Davis first before the pianist dives headfirst into the furious hard bop cooker. Gill takes the spotlight with a tasty solo to open Charlie Parker's infrequently played "Perhaps," making it sound more like it came from Oscar Pettiford. Harold Land's "Poor People's March" is another rediscovery, a little-known piece recorded in the late '60s yet not released for another decade. The title doesn't describe the tune, a rollicking, constantly shifting bop vehicle in the trio's hands. Zak's originals also merit attention. He opens his dreamy ballad "Shala" alone with a bit of free playing, its lyrical theme taking shape as the trio joins him while "Propinquity" is a breezy bossa nova. His rambunctious "Horace's Dream," with its pulsating undercurrent, is tacitly dedicated to Horace Silver.
Electric guitarist Tom Guarna's third Steeplechase CD Wingspan pairs him with tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm (who doubles on soprano), Gill once more and drummer Willie Jones III. The late guitarist Billy Bauer penned the hip "Marionette" where Guarna's soft interplay with Frahm and understated solo show the influence of Jim Hall. Guarna revises Miles' "Half Nelson" by altering the time signature and transforming it into a percolating waltz and the quartet easily negotiates the demanding changes of Walter Norris' "Scramble" without a slip. Guarna revamps the familiar chestnut "Angel Eyes" with a bossa nova arrangement as Frahm's fluid soprano sax flirts with the piece's melancholy theme. Guarna masters the standard "I Should Care" by caressing the melody in a spacious solo treatment. His originals include the driving title track, which he sets up with his intricate solo (Frahm makes a delayed entrance with an equally impassioned statement). The easygoing "The Long" puts more emphasis on melody in a lightly swinging setting.
Tracks and Personnel
Seed of Sin
Tracks: All Day Long; Minor Apprehension; Propinquity; Poor People's March; Horace's Dream; Shala; Perhaps; Seed of Sin; Memories of You; King Cobra.
Personnel: Peter Zak: piano; Paul Gill: bass; Quincy Davis: drums.
Tracks: Wingspan; Marionette; Where Are You?; Half Nelson; Scramble; The Long; I Should Care; Angel Eyes; I'll Take Romance.
Personnel: Tom Guarna: electric guitar; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Paul Gill: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.