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Denny Zeitlin: Wishing On The Moon

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Denny Zeitlin claimed a spot as a top-tier jazz pianist at the very beginning of his recording career with a sideman slot on flutist Jeremy Steig's Flute Fever (Columbia, 1963), followed by his debut as a leader, Cathexis (Columbia, 1964). After three more excellent sets for Columbia, Zeitlin's career shifted into a smaller label mode, resulting in several high quality but under-recognized albums. Additionally, in 1978 he seized the opportunity to score the orchestral electro-acoustic avant-garde soundtrack to the classic remake of the 1956 science fiction film classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

In 2004 Zeitlin began a short, two recordings stint with the MAXJAZZ label that lifted his profile. But it is his association with Sunnyside Records that's been the biggest boost. The pianist boasts a ten album discography at MAXJAZZ, and it includes, along with his uniformly excellent solo piano and piano trio offerings, a return to his Body Snatchers-esque interest in electronic music with three innovative electro-acoustic offerings: Both/And (2013), Riding the Moment (2015), and Expedition ( 2017).

The disc on the table now is Wishing on the Moon, featuring Zeitlin's long term trio with Buster Williams on bass and Matt Wilson sitting in on drums. This is the third live Sunnyside recording from them. It is—on a bar set high with In Concert Featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson 2009) and Stairway to the Stars (2014)—their best.

Opening with a dazzlingly reharmonized Cole Porter's "All of You," the group explores every nuance of the melody, improvises with a fluid grace and throws in surprises in interplay, melody stretching and harmonic ingenuity. The result is a sparkling jewel, stretched out over eleven gorgeous minutes.

Zeitlin's setlists mix American Songbook tunes and jazz standards with his own classic tunes that either are or should be standards. Considering the Zeitlin originals, the disc's title tune—a slow bossa nova, lushly harmonized—is ten minutes of sweet yearning. "There and Back," inspired by Tolkien's The Hobbit is a lovely jumble of a tune that slips into a funk groove.

With the set's centerpiece, "Slickrock," Zeitlin and the trio explore the avant-garde side, with paean to one of the pianist's former pastimes, mountain biking. This adventurous, four part, seventeen minute suite captures the essence of the experience, from the Zen calm of "Dawn Gathering" to the bone-jarring momentum of "On the Trail," and the mental and physical discombobulation of "Recovery," followed by a re-gathering of the senses and a re-establishment of a strong, steady rhythm, followed by a re-set of the joy of acceleration with "On the Trail Again."

Wishing on the Moon represents the Denny Zeitlin Trio at the peak of its powers, on one those nights—this was recorded live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in New York in 2009—when all the gears meshed, and all the stars aligned around that shining moon.

Track Listing: All Of You; Wishing On The Moon; As Long As There's Music; Slickrock: Dawn; Gathering, On The Trail, Recovery, On The Trail Again; Put Your Little Foot Right Out; There And Back; Bass Prelude To Signs & Wonders; Signs & Wonders.

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

Title: Wishing On The Moon | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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