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Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh: Expedition

Dan Bilawsky By

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While fear often paints the idea of spontaneous creation as a sea of uncertainty, openness tend to shape it as an ocean of possibility. The difference all comes down to how you look at it and the way you choose to operate. To exist in the latter mindset, and boldly travel to new and unknown realms without trepidation, one need only live in the moment, let go, and listen. Just look at the work of pianist Denny Zeitlin and drummer George Marsh if you need further convincing.

Zeitlin and Marsh have a long history together—the drummer was the linchpin in the pianist's broad-minded electro-acoustic trio that formed nearly half a century ago and they rekindled their musical relationship by creating this exploratory duo back in 2013—but that history doesn't bog down their work with sentiment or result in any "been there, done that" designs. It's always a new ballgame and a blank canvas for these two.

It wouldn't be unfair to say that Expedition operates on the same platform as this pair's previous statement—Riding The Moment (Sunnyside Records, 2015). It's the absolute truth. Both duo dates look at free expression in a hybridized realm and each presents music that was essentially created in real time with few overdubs. This is most certainly a continuation statement, but that shouldn't imply that there's any retracing of steps. All twenty-five tracks spread across the two records are marked by an independence of thought and direction.

While the scent of freedom carries on the air across this entire album, the music is rarely formless. It grooves, breathes, flows, and evolves in kaleidoscopic fashion, taking and/or changing shape through a near-telepathic process. Entire tracks—or "sound paintings," if we're going with the Zeitlin-Marsh vernacular—often possess a magnetic draw born of language and development. Such is the case with "Traffic," for example. It's a construct that springs from a nervous sixteenth note motif, lands in a swinging realm where a somewhat icy synth and acoustic piano become fast friends while Marsh lays it down on his ride, and finally trails off into the sunset as a soundscape free of constraints and full of uncertainty. It's five minutes worth following and one example of how this pair guides the music into different areas without ever forcing it.

Each journey has something special to offer in its entirety, but that's only one way of taking this music in. Bathing in individual moments or single aspects of a performance—the marriage of trumpet-ish synth, funky bass lines, and driving cymbal on "Shards Of Blue"; the playful points that produce "Lives Of Clowns"; the fusion-ish groove that carries "Shooting The Rapids"—is just as rewarding. Either way that you slice it, it's something special. There are some minor drawbacks here—some of the synth sounds are a tad dated, the music occasionally wants for more urgency—but they don't have a major impact on the end result. Any opportunity to hear Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh take us into the great unknown is an opportunity worth taking.

Track Listing: Geysers; Thorns Of Life; Traffic; Shards Of Blue; Lives Of Clowns; Spiral Nebula; Shooting The Rapids; One Song; Sentinel; Watch Where You Step; Not Lost In The Shuffle; The Hunt; Expedition.

Personnel: Denny Zeitlin: acoustic piano, hardware and virtual synthesizers, keyboards; George Marsh: drums, percussion.

Title: Expedition | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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