CD review: Denny Zeitlin – Live At Mezzrow 2020: Video, CD cover

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The current iteration of the Denny Zeitlin Trio was born for a large stage but finds itself at home in all settings. The ever-evolving Trio finds a special location in time and place whenever it meets. But, their incredible impact is best heard in intimate environments, as evidenced by their new release, Live at Mezzrow.

The great pianist/composer Denny Zeitlin originally assembled this ensemble in 2001 when he was asked to present a trio performance at the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Having recorded a recent album together, the great bassist Buster Williams, was a natural choice. The drum chair was intended to go to Al Foster, but when he proved unavailable, Zeitlin happily discovered the remarkable Matt Wilson.

Wilson appeared the evening before the performance and Williams just moments before curtain. The energy of their first time playing together, right there on stage, was infectious and their connection undeniable. The Trio has now been together for over eighteen years and, though their performances are rare, due to scheduling complexities and Zeitlin’s responsibilities as a psychiatrist, the group continues to grow together whenever they meet, evolving from the space they last left.

Zeitlin’s broad musical interests, from modern classical and electronic music to torch songs, funk, free improvisation, and the blues, are easily attended by the duo of Williams and Wilson. Williams’ sense of time and swing are essential to the propulsion of the group, while Wilson’s energy and willingness to go anywhere musically keep the music exciting and entertaining.

Spike Wilner’s piano focused Mezzrow Jazz Club has become the Zeitlin Trio’s New York home. Mezzrow presents the performer with a fantastic sounding room featuring a superb Steinway piano. The listener is presented with an intimate listening experience with some of the greatest musicians in the world. This is all courtesy of Wilner’s personal goal of presenting the best of jazz music in an inspiring surrounding for all.

During Zeitlin’s May 2019 New York residency, he made sure to include the Trio for two nights at Mezzrow. Recording engineers Glen Forrest and Colin Mohnacs were invited to record the two nights and came up with gorgeous results. The music was mixed and mastered by Zeitlin and Vadim Canby back in California.

The recording begins with Zeitlin’s brilliantly rearranged version of the Gershwins’ “The Man I Love,” which begins with subtle solo piano before exploding with drums and bass. The leader’s “Echo of a Kiss” is a gorgeous waltz with tricky harmonic and rhythmic changes to keep the group on its toes. The Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins classic “I Mean You” is done in a punchy rendition, while Billy Strayhorn’s “The Star-Crossed Lovers” is a study in patience and quietude.

Zeitlin’s ever building “10 Bar Tune” is a circular piece that accrues intensity as it goes along; it is followed by a fascinatingly off kilter version of Arthur Schwartz’s “Dancing In The Dark.” The Trio plays Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” as a meditative bossa nova, while the same composer’s “Intimacy of The Blues” is an intense blues-shuffle that the trio eats up. The recording concludes with Wayne Shorter’s “Paraphernalia,” a wonderful piece that the Trio approaches at their most esoterically free.

The combination of the right musicians and the right environment can do much for an amazing performance. Denny Zeitlin proves this once again with his Trio, featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson, on his new recording, Live at Mezzrow.

01. The Man I Love – Live (11:43)
02. Echo Of A Kiss – Live (7:20)
03. I Mean You – Live (7:38)
04. The Star-Crossed Lovers – Live (7:40)
05. 10 Bar Tune – Live (6:09)
06. Dancing In The Dark – Live (8:20)
07. Isfahan – Live (6:17)
08. Intimacy Of The Blues – Live (4:30)
09. Paraphernalia – Live (12:11)

Denny Zeitlin – piano
Buster Williams – bass
Matt Wilson – drums

Live at Mezzrow | Denny Zeitlin

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