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Peter Zak: Down East

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Peter Zak and his superb trio went into the studio to swing on Down East, and swing they did. Opening with Duke Pearson's "Is That So?," Zak displays a light touch and a sparkle and shine not unlike that of Red Garland or Oscar Peterson, with ubiquitous bassist Peter Washington and drummer Rodney Green locking the rhythm into a tight foundational groove for Zak's bright ebullience. On a set of well-chosen standards mixed with lesser-known gems, and with the bass and drums more in a supportive than interactive mode, Zak's beautiful way with a melody comes to the forefront.

George Gershwin's "Who Cares" showcases the trio's ability to let a ballad unfold via Zak's exquisitely refined touch, and the leader's up-tempo original, "Sector 7," has a prickly, modern feeling. Given the Pearson and Gershwin opening salvo, a very traditional, mainstream outing in the mode of pianist Bill Evans could be expected, but song choice heads toward the unexpected with Thelonious Monk's "Gallop's Gallop." It is not one of the legendary pianist's better-known tunes—it didn't appear on a Monk album until the release of the 1964-recorded Live at the It Club (Sony Music, 1982). Zak smooths out some of the edges and refreshes the harmony while maintaining the humor and the characteristic Monk quirkiness of the tune.

Zak has been describes as a bebop and beyond stylist. He delivers straight bebop with a reverent take on trumpeter Clifford Brown's bouncy "Tiny Capers," giving bassist Washington a chance to step out for a melodious solo. The trio goes "beyond" on Henry Mancini's "Dreamsville," perhaps the loveliest eight minutes of the set, leading into the frenetically high octane "Invisible," from the songbook of alto saxophonist/free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman.

The set then moves into a couple of Zak originals: the gorgeous, smooth-flowing bossa nova, "He Said/She Said," then closes out with engaging and light-stepping title cut, for a perfect ending to rising star Peter Zak's top notch trio effort.

Track Listing: Is That So?; Who Cares?; Sector 7; Gallop's Gallop; I didn't Know About You; Tiny Capers; Dreamsville; Invisible; Love Thy Neighbor; He Said/She Said; Down East.

Personnel: Peter Zak: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Rodney Green: drums.

Title: Down East | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: SteepleChase Records

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