Denny Zeitlin: Labyrinth (2011)
To Denny Zeitlin the piano is several instruments rolled into one. It is a percussion instrument, struck by fingers and all manner of objets d'art. Together with his feet, which depress the pedals as if they were instrumental peripherals in themselves, Zeitlin makes masterful use of them to split, carve, bend and hang notes. Zeitlin might also make the piano sound like a lute or a harp. And then there are his arms and fingers, that make oceanic use of the ebony and ivory. It is, after all, a piano à queue to Zeitlin, first and foremost. Arms waving in arcs interrupted by a bent elbow, he appears to fluff notes in the air before striking them definitively. He seems to will his energy into ten digits, extending from the palms of his hands until they, quite simply, make sweet music. Here, too, the maestro has developed a technique of varying the pressure applied to the keys so that he is able to vary the emotion of the note. Zeitlin is truly a master of the piano, with a technique so superior that he appears to be almost alone at the top of the imaginary pinnacle from where maestros of extreme rarity preside over the art of pianism.
This was evident before Zeitlin made his memorable recordings for Columbia, and now his recent recordings for Sunnyside. Labyrinth, his most mesmerizing solo record to date, is no exception. It confirms that an audience is absolutely essential in order to complete the artist's composition; it seems as if every time Zeitlin sits at the keyboard, genius is awakened. His exceptional interpretations of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and John Coltrane's "Lazy Bird" are just two of the reasons why this album of songs is one for the history books. In the former, Zeitlin turns Shorter's beautifully brooding piece into an epic mystery. In Zeitlin's hands, for instance, it is almost as if the pianist cultivated the narrative of the iconic graphic of a "footprint," developing its prequel and sequel into the extraordinary epic that it has become at his hands. On the latter piece, the singularity of Zeitlin's voice meets his majestic technique. Here his left and right hands work together when he wills it, and then, as if by magic, completely independent of each other. This must have been a sight to behold at the concert itself; it certainly is a wonder to hear on the recording.
Zeitlin's compositions including the maddeningly hypnotic "Labyrinth" and the blisteringly energetic "Brazilian Street Dance" are further evidence that he has contributed some of the most definitive literature to the Great Piano Songbook. The great oceans of European and American sounds collide in Zeitlin's work. In these as well as well as the other charts here it is clear that Zeitlin's masterful use of the language of music is permanently enshrined in everything he touches.
Track Listing: Footprints; Sail Away; They Say It's Wonderful; Lazy Bird; As Long As There's Music; Labyrinth; People Will Say We're In Love; Brazilian Street Dance; Dancing In The Dark; Slipstream.
Personnel: Denny Zeitlin: piano.