Pianist Peter Zak, a heralded talent in the trio setting, flies solo on his excellent My Conception
, where he skillfully dissects and reconstructs a roster of originals and standards, giving them depth of character and unrealized poignancy.
Zak's originals are ambitious and diverse. He plays the mercurial "Shala with building emotion and lyricism as his boundless ideas grow exponentially. He deftly explores every harmonic and melodic possibility of the beautiful "Mahmoud's Memory, telling a story that is complex yet uncluttered. The repeated figure of "Circling Columbus means to convey the frustration of dealing with midtown traffic, but Zak works out on the tune like someone who thrives on the energy. "The Camel is another challenging, well-executed tune that ends with a clever flourish.
Zak is equally skilled at interpreting others' major and minor classics. He strides confidently through Cal Massey's "These Are Soulful Days, taking rewarding risks with the melody and tempo. He puts a light, tender touch on the title tune by Sonny Clark, and plays Blue Mitchell's calypso-flavored "Fungii Mama with a contagious vibrancy. Zak steps outside the box by playing the standard "Witchcraft in a more contemplative tempo, then boldly opts out of the usual fast reading of "With A Song in My Heart, choosing to remake it as a lovely ballad.
Zak plays with richness and fluidity, artfully blending the many colors on his palette to create bright landscapes. Zak plays with a confidence born of his undeniable skill. There are moments throughout My Conceptionwhere one can almost hear him thinking out loud as he pauses to peek around corners as he decides which harmonic route to take. Zak always makes the right choices, and audiences will continue to reap the benefits of hearing this wonderfully talented piano man.