Denny Zeitlin's Inhabiting a Parallel Universe

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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The artist is alone. Not woefully or desperately alone, but more like willfully alone and enraptured... He empties his head of thought to make way for the flow of air. And in the air, notes of varying pitch and character. They bring their sound alone... then sometimes strung together like necklaces of varying beads—whole ones, halves and quarters... eights... sixteenths... a myriad... The artist feels good to be alone, emptied of all thought now he is prepared for the waves of sound. He sits down at the piano and gives them voice. Denny Zeitlin is playing... deconstructing... exhilarating.

I am alone in the room and hear Zeitlin deep inside my heart. This is where the notes that first appeared in his head—thoughts and ideas flowing through his brain, veins and fingers—before sprinkling onto the keyboard. And they touch not the auditory senses but on the slate of the heart. The tune is vaguely familiar, but I hear new harmonic variations... a slightly stifled major chord is struck, then new changes revolving like a mad wheel around the original chord in elastic time... and suddenly a melody emerges... It is a Kern—"All The Things You Are" in fact. Bassist Charlie Haden joins in, playing notes like sharp refracted shards of light... then Jerry Granelli—almost tip-toeing on cymbals murmuring loud and soft. My heart begins to beat like a part of the song. I am revealed to myself. All the things I am...can be... all things mentionable and unmentionable... Suddenly I can no longer sit still. My body is swaying and I get up from the chair and allow the music to take over.

Tree sap I am... we are—the song and I together—and a child again... I feel one with the earth and the sky and the rivulet that runs through our property. The song skips as if across a moor I can remember as a child. Many days did I spend there looking for myself in the puddles that glittered and rippled with vast miniature ecosystems? Suddenly I am indoors again. A cool wind wraps the song notes and chords... they skitter in the gathering swirl around my body and begin to trot and gallop at a quickening pace. The music whirls... I whirl too like a dervish. The music is empowering... I forget to breathe and merely swallow the notes of the song. As notes tingle and chords tremble and reverberate around me I realize that every inch of me is ringing in echo of the song's melody. The rhythm inside that melody makes body and soul undulate in gymnastic pirouettes.

Denny Zeitlin's fingers are caressing the piano keys and coaxing the notes to sing. Notes roll over each other, cascading into the heart of the melody. Then Charlie Haden's majestic bass lines and the steady rat-a-tat-and-trinkle-tinkle of Jerry Granelli's drums and cymbals dance around me. I see Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's classic song in a new light. It murmurs softly, swinging almost relentlessly... then it settles into a long and effervescent impression of a body, boundlessly beautiful. I see it... all the things she is...

The maddening colors of Carnival

This is Disc 2 of the 3-CD set, Mosaic Select Denny Zeitlin: The Columbia Studio Trio Sessions. I had no intention of listening to this Disc (2) before Disc (1). It was pure chance and I like surprises. I had just heard "Carole's Garden" and wanted to follow that thread, see where it went. The title of this Columbia Studio album, Carnival reminded me of home... Brasil... Or then again, maybe none of the above... The urge to merely gambol was strong... And this is jazz... Denny Zeitlin could have that effect on me too. I had listened to and reviewed his latest record, the brilliant Sunnyside release, Denny Zeitlin Trio/In Concert. Here Buster Williams, Matt Wilson and Zeitlin performed his maddeningly exciting twist on "The Night Has 1000 Eyes," called simply "10,000 Eyes". The reinterpretation of that original Jerome Brainin-Buddy Bernier classic was astounding. It was new harmonically, with a 7/4 vamp and a climactic piano solo...

On Disc 2 of this priceless set, there is more tantalizing deconstruction of standards. Zeitlin seems to revel in this when he approaches a standard. On "We'll Be Together Again," the new changes are very subtle, hidden in the gently swaying rhythm, with just the occasional flurry of fingers in the second chorus. "Once Upon a Summertime" is a redefinition of modern romanticism. The almost somnambulant pace at which the song begins is deceptively challenging in the way that Glenn Gould's famous interpretation of Brahms D Minor Concerto. But summertime can be languorous, so Zeitlin basks in its glory, soaks in the heat of the song and reflects the sense wonder so similar to the way Ray Bradbury once described his own protagonist's sense of wonder in Dandelion Wine. And then there is the extraordinary song "The Boy Next Door," with its semi-tonal shifts and astounding melodic statements verse after verse...


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