There are few jazz pianists performing today who excel in the art of the straight-ahead piano-bass-drums trio as brilliantly as does Peter Zak. The empathy that he, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Willie Jones III achieve on all 10 tracks of The Disciple—the Los Angeles-born, New York- based pianist’s tenth album in 10 years for SteepleChase Productions and eighth such trio recording for the esteemed Danish label—is nothing short of breathtaking.
“The fact that the piano is the lead instrument in terms of playing the melody appeals to me,” Zak says of the trio format. “There’s that, and the hookup between the ride cymbal and the bass doesn’t get any better than that. The reason I play jazz is basically for that feel.” Critics are sure to rave about The Disciple, much as they have for his earlier trio recordings.
“Peter Zak has developed into a pianist who knows what to leave out when playing, giving his music a buoyancy often lacking in trio CDs,” Ken Dryden wrote in NYC Jazz Record of Zak’s previous release, 2013’s The Eternal Triangle with bassist Washington and drummer Billy Drummond. “[T]his,” Dryden added, “is an interactive trio of equals, not just a leader and sidemen.” “The three musicians are as tight as a regularly working trio, even though they don’t play together too often,” Lee Hildebrand said of the same album in Oakland’s East Bay Express.
And, in his review for the Newark Star-Ledger of 2008’s Blues on the Corner: The Music of McCoy Tyner with bassist Paul Gill and drummer Quincy Davis, Zan Stewart opined, “The inventive, poised pianist and composer Peter Zak— he of bebop-and-beyond heart—creates beguiling passages of flowing melody driven by an assured swing.”
Zak is a stylistic disciple of some of the greatest jazz pianists of the bop and post-bop eras. He salutes six of them on The Disciple with personalized interpretations of compositions by Chick Corea, Elmo Hope, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Hampton Hawes, and Thelonious Monk, along with three of his own and one by the Russian classical composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin.
He hadn’t initially planned a CD of tunes made up entirely of tunes by piano players. It just turned out that way, as did the fact the set opens and closes with waltzes: Chick Corea’s “The Loop” and his own “The Disciple.” His decisions must have been subconscious, as he has long shown himself to be master of programming music who often selects great yet little-known songs for his recordings and live performances.