Denny Zeitlin: Riding the Moment

Dan McClenaghan By

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The album Switched-On Bach  (Columbia Records, 1968), by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos was a seminal introduction to synthesized music. Carlos used the then new MOOG Synthesizer to painstakingly construct the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Love it or hate it seemed to be the reaction, without much opinion in between. But one thing for certain, the synthesizer genie was out of the bottle.

Times have changed. The once cumbersome MOOG has given way to smaller and much more sophisticated systems. "Live electronics" are flourishing in jazz, and nobody is going for the full immersion there deeper than pianist/keyboardist Denny Zeitlin.

Zeitlin began his jazz career—alongside his career in psychiatry—in the early 60s with a series of acoustic piano trio albums for Columbia Records. From the late 60s until the late 70s he began his experiments with electronics, culminating in 1978 with his magnificent electro-symphonic soundtrack to the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Then he unplugged for a decade, with some notable dabbling in sythesized sounds during his tenure at MaxJazz Records. With the new millennium, Zeitlin signed with Sunnyside Records, where he has produced the best and most adventurous music of his career, including two solo piano masterpieces, Labyrinth (2011) and Precipice (2010), and—back in the synthesizer saddle again—the solo electro acoustic adventure, Both/And (2013).

Riding the Moment: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations features Zeitlin in the sythesizer chair again, beside his acoustic piano, teaming with one of the pianist's old trio mates, drummer George Marsh.

Comparing Both/And with Riding the Moment: much is the same; much is quite different. The same: the sweeping, glowing washes of neon sound, the synthesized instruments, the electric bumps and swirlings and rattles and cool drones. The difference: the unbridled spontaneity of Zeitlin's improvisational sound creation alongside the inspired drumming of George Marsh.

In pop music in particular, the use of a synthesizer to often results in a stale, stiff, pasteurized sound, a music without character. Zeitlin doesn't have that problem. He is as virtuosic a musician as you'll fined in this arena, and his engagement with Marsh is superb. The pairing is reminiscent of the John Coltrane/Rashied Ali duet set of Interstellar Space (Impulse Records, 1965), not in its intensity—the music of late-career Coltrane could more often than not peel the linoleum off the floor—but rather in it's perfection of in-the-moment interaction, the melodic aspect of Marsh's drum work, the genius and beauty of Zeitlin's musicianship and the simpatico of the exchange of a thousand ideas between the two musicians.

Let's not break it down. There's a lot of music here, more than seventy-seven minutes. It's a mesmerizing stew of sounds—there's not much limitation for the synthesizers. There's energy, the vibrancy of the "recorded live" aspect of the music, and inspired vision of two seasons jazz pros caught in the act of spontaneous creation, riding the moment.

Track Listing: Back on the Horse; Fermenting; Marching to a Different Drummer; Setting Sail; Vortex; Broken Nest; The Visit; Wheel & Tracks; Very Bari; Gears; Down the Rabbit Hole; Quest.

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

Title: Riding the Moment | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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