Denny Zeitlin: Live at Mezzrow

Dan Bilawsky BY

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Denny Zeitlin: Live at Mezzrow
Coming up on two decades of creative engagement and evolution, pianist Denny Zeitlin's group with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson remains one of the most bracing, sophisticated and creatively satisfying trios on the scene. In the best of times, a set like this, recorded live at Spike Wilner's New York piano room Mezzrow, can serve as a reminder of the virtues of camaraderie, depth of feeling, design strength and the art of living in the moment. Arriving at a point when the world's jazz venues remain shuttered—or, at least, closed to in-person audiences—it proves absolutely vital.

Captured during two nights of Zeitlin's residency at the titular club in May of 2019, everybody appears to be in peak, pliable form throughout. George Gershwin's "The Man I Love," which stretches out for nearly 12 minutes, has no problem making that case. Zeitlin proves curious with his elegant intro, Williams and Wilson join him in some high caliber swing, descents into wandering alt-funk bring a different aspect of life to the party, and frayed connections allow for an expansion on—and dissolution of—the picture itself. Zeitlin's structural alterations add, subtract, multiply and divide volumes across this classic.

The remaining eight performances prove no less intriguing, whether for their broad embrace of change or for their seemingly effortless class. Zeitlin's "Echo of a Kiss," for example, waltzes around with wondrous harmonies. Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins' "I Mean You" fully embraces quirks, serious swing and puckish (inter)play. A trio of Billy Strayhorn compositions—a gorgeous trip through a slightly-modified version of "The Star-Crossed Lovers," a bossa-based take on "Isfahan," and the chugging and shuffling "Intimacy of The Blues"—display the many gifts of both creator and interpreter. And Wayne Shorter's "Paraphernalia" looks to outer limits, inner spaces and funky graces as equally important means of discovery.

Zeitlin's command and combination(s) of numerous musical dialects, Williams' elastic resonance and grounding presence, and Wilson's character, coloring skills and impeccable sense of time and groove all come together to form a beautiful whole. This trio is both firm in its constitution and loose in its methods of operation. It's simply the best of both of worlds.

Track Listing

The Man I Love; Echo of a Kiss; I Mean You; The Star-Crossed Lovers; 10 Bar Tune; Dancing In The Dark; Isfahan; Intimacy of The Blues; Paraphernalia.


Denny Zeitlin: piano; Buster Williams: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.

Album information

Title: Live at Mezzrow | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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