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Denny Zeitlin: Precipice

Dan McClenaghan By

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The recorded live format seems to suit pianist Denny Zeitlin, who is certainly the only top tier jazz pianist who is also a practicing psychiatrist. His In Concert (Sunnyside Records, 2009), with his trio featuring bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson, was filled with beautiful moments of surrender and improvisational élan, and stunningly spontaneous displays of technical proficiency. His follow-up, Precipice, a solo piano outing, finds the pianist again live in concert, recorded at Ralston Hall in 2008, in Santa Barbara, California.

The symbiotic three-way relationship with his band mates on In Concert was compelling, as good as it gets for fans of the piano trio sound—brainy yet accessible, and immensely virtuosic, covering John Coltrane ("Mr. P.C.") and Cole Porter (a full of surprises "All of You"), along with Zeitlin's original tunes. Going solo for Precipice results in something even more mesmerizing.

Zeitlin's original "Free Prelude" serves as a wandering improvisational foray that leads, with perfect logic, into the Cole Porter standard "What is This Thing Called Love?" Covered often and well, Zeitlin gives the melody a certain quirky reverence that eventually cranks into high gear as it evolves into a burning take on Coltrane's "Fifth House," gathering a percussive momentum to close out twelve-plus minutes of tightly focused yet highly spontaneous jazz.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic, "Out of My Dreams" showcases Zeitlin's refined touch and gorgeously lush harmonies. "On the March" is the first of five Zeitlin originals on the set. It features some harp-like, inside-the-piano strumming. The mood is bright and whimsical at first, with injections of majesty. It is a composition containing complex twists and turns, with hard-driving moments interspersed with dreamy, drifting interludes. Cerebral, perhaps, but always approachable and always gorgeous.

Zeitlin has a wonderful way with love songs. His "The We of Us," written for his wife Josephine, has an achingly tender, ethereal beauty, and "Love Theme from Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (Zeitlin did the soundtrack for 1978 remake of the sci-fi classic) has a luminous loveliness, a tune suffused with deep melancholy and tragic yearning.

"Pulsar," a high-octane Zeitlin original, showcases Zeitlin's capacity for complexity and elegance married to percussive zest, leading into the title tune/set closer. The energy level is set even higher, with shifting sections of funk and free improvisation, and glistening, crystalline bursts of notes that make the unexpected expected, for a grand closing to an extraordinary set of solo piano music.

Track Listing: Free Prelude/What Is This Thing Called Love?/Fifth House, Part One; Free Prelude/What Is This Thing Called Love?/Fifth House, Part Two; Out of My Dreams; On the March; The We of Us; Deluge; Oleo; Love Theme From the Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Pulsar; Precipice.

Personnel: Denny Zeitlin: piano.

Title: Precipice | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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