Pianist Denny Zeitlin
's career in music started just a bit after saxophonist Wayne Shorter
showed up on the scene. Shorter's debut album, Introducing Wayne Shorter
(Vee Jay Records) arrived in 1959. Zeiltin's introduction to the jazz listening public came in 1963, in a sideman stint on flutist Jeremy Steig
's Flute Fever
(Columbia Records). A year later, in 1964, Shorter signed with Blue Note Records and began releasing what would become a series of classic albums for the label; and Zeitlin signed that year with Columbia Records and began releasing his own set of consistently fine albums as a leader. Both men have enjoyed long and lauded careers, Shorter joining Miles Davis in what would become the Second Great Quintet; Zeitlin taking on the task of creating an electro-symphonic soundtrack to the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1978), in addition to his ongoing explorations of the art of the piano trio, duo and solo formats.
Zeitlin's celebration of Shorter's songbook is no new thing. He covered the saxophonist/composer's "Footprints" on Labyrinth
(Sunnyside Records, 2011); "E.S.P." on his "Slick Rock
(MaxJazz, 2004); and "Deluge" on the marvelous Precipice
(Sunnyside Records, 2010). With Early Wayne
, the pianist, Zeitlin goes all in, delvingin the solo piano modeinto the songbook of Shorter's perhaps most fruitful composing period, the 1960s, with a couple of tunes from the 70s stirred into the mix.
In terms of jazz standards, Shorter's early tunes are as familiar as anybody'sdistinctive and cliche-less, unfailingly modern-sounding, even fifty years after they were written. And often covered. Zeitlin's immersion there is something like an embrace of a jazz prayer book, where the readings of those prayers are anything but rote exercises. They feel dynamic and joyful, like rapturous and freewheeling interpretations time-tested truths.
The opener, "Speak No Evil," from Shorter's 1966 Blue Note album of the same name, finds Zeitlin burrowing into the music, exploring unforeseen permutations before shifting into the theme, with elasticity and a sparkling zest. He begins "Nefertiti" with the theme, making the music sound venerable. Then he takes it out on a tangent into a glistening probe of the melody's thesisdark and probing one moment, sprightly and radiant the next.
That's the template for the CDa set of dynamic Zeitlin treatments of Shorter's time-tested classics, infusing classic on-edge beauty with virtuoso pianism and idiosyncratic imagination.