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Issue: July 2009

Then (Studio) and Now (Live)

The Complete Columbia Studio Trio Sessions (Mosaic Select)

In Concert (Sunnyside)

Denny Zeitlin

One of the first jazz pianists to whom I listened was Denny Zeitlin. Back in the 1960s, a high school friend's hip father had the debut album by flutist Jeremy Steig, Flute Fever, which featured Zeitlin. Still a beginning jazz listener, I was drawn to him because not only was he a musician, but he was also finishing his medical degree and ready to begin his internship in psychiatry. Now, more than four decades later, Zeitlin continues "to evolve in my dual passions of music and psychiatry, each activity energizing the other," according to liner notes from Complete Columbia)

The award-winning Mosaic label has released a 3-CD set of Zeitlin's Columbia studio work which followed his debut on Steig's record. It contains three complete albums, Cathexis (1964, Cecil McBee on bass and Freddie Waits on drums); Carnival (1964, Charlie Haden on bass and Jerry Granelli on drums); and Zeitgeist (1966, also with Haden and Granelli; and 1967, Joe Halpin on bass and Oliver Johnson on drums).

Additionally, the set contains more than an hour of previously unreleased bonus tracks from these sessions. Zeitlin was personally involved with the production of this compilation, and he expresses admiration for the superb remastering here, which he states "vastly improved the fidelity" as compared to the vinyl pressings.

From the beginning, Zeitlin forged his own unique style, with influences ranging from Bill Evans to George Russell. Given free reign by producer John Hammond, Zeitlin's albums were comprised of roughly half original pieces and half Zeitlin's personal interpretations of songs ranging from American Songbook classics such as "Here's That Rainy Day" to jazz standards such as "'Round Midnight" and the then-new "Maiden Voyage." Particularly on his later recordings, Zeitlin demonstrates a knack for moving within a song from straightforward melodic playing to the controlled dissonance of "outside" playing and back again.

Fast forward some 40 years, and Zeitlin is still honing his craft, as amply demonstrated on In Concert, recorded between 2001 and 2006 in Albuquerque and Los Angeles. John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." is the disc's opener, and exemplifies the empathetic interplay and sensitivity which bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson bring to Zeitlin's approach to the music. After a fast trio statement of the theme, Zeitlin solos with a classical feel, after which the other musicians rejoin him for an exploratory investigation of the nooks and crannies of this composition; Williams then solos before the trio returns to the theme.

Another familiar song, Cole Porter's "All of You," begins as a ballad, moves into a freeform section, then resolves into midtempo swing. This same sense of exhilarating re-examination of the familiar carries through to "The Night Has 1,000 Eyes/10,000 Eyes." The other compositions are originals by Zeitlin ("The We of Us" and "Prime Times"), Williams ("Bass Prelude"), and former Zeitlin bassist David Friesen ("Signs and Wonders". Zeitlin's musical inquisitiveness makes both this current set and the above archival release stand out as something unique, not "just another piano trio" recordings.

More information about this artist and these releases (as well as many others) may be found at www.dennyzeitlin.com.

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