Austin, Texas-based pianist/composer Peggy Stern has 30 years and 12 recordings to her considerable credit. Her repertoire knows no perimeter, and includes mainstream jazz, bossa nova, and most of all, her own finely crafted compositions. For her lucky 13th release, Z Octet Stern turns in a ten-piece recital of chamber music. Again defying categorization, this is chamber music, not classical chamber music, not jazz chamber music or any other genre one could pin to the critical bulletin board. It is music, played by a chamber orchestra. However, is not just music, it is thoughtful creation, cleverly composed, precisely arranged, and expertly rendered. All those things you have heard about Peggy Stern...well, they're true.
The music on Z Octet runs a wide gamut, from the humid southern hemisphere stylings of "The Elephant's Tango" to the vocally inflected "New Years" to the elegantly pastoral solo piano of "Red Bug Slough" (channeling the spirit of Aaron Copland crossed with George Winston). Just when you think you have gotten beyond any jazz, "Anomie" shows up, reed-rich and jaunty with plenty of sass and attitude. Even Alex Coke's subdued flute pipes up with Su Terry's dry clarinet when pitted against Alex Heitlinger's muted, talking trombone. This is Duke Ellington's brilliance, Maria Schneider's local color, and Miles Davis' diamond hard seriousness all melded and tempered by a singular mind and talent into a cogent and familiar musical statement.
The Elephant’s Tango; New Year’s; Time/Hymn; Red Bug Slough; Anomie; Caterina/Isabela; Phille; Zinfandel; Jury Duty; Whenever Sunrise.
Peggy Stern: composer, Piano, vocals (2); Su Terry: clarinet; Alex Coke: flute; Alex Heitlinger: trombone; Ilia Delarosa: cello; Wayne Salzmann: drums; Susie Stern: vocals (2, 6).