As any regular reader of this site knows, there are many super-fine musicians that soar beneath the discerning radar of even the jazz world. Perhaps they don’t want to move to NYC, Los Angeles, London, or Paris; they’ve no feeling for the "business" side of the music biz, don’t tour much (or at all), or in some cases, a player has a parallel career.
Take Denny Zeitlin-not only is he an aces-back-to-back jazz pianist but also a practicing psychiatrist. Zeitlin also did the electronics-laden soundtrack for the excellent 70s remake of the 50s paranoia classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In the 60s, he had a few albums out on Columbia Records, in the early 70s some albums combining jazz and what would now be termed electronica on the 1750 Arch label, all now super-rare collectibles. Why is this gent not better known, both inside and beyond the jazz world?
That’s a mystery for a greater mind than mine-but as a devoted music geek I must clue you, Dear Reader, to the June Saturday night Chicago stand of the Denny Zeitlin Trio. Accompanied by bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson, Zeitlin gave an exhilarating whirlwind tour of his piano world. His style comes from Bud Powell (spinning-out dazzling lines), Dave Brubeck (almost percussive touch, genial sense of composition), McCoy Tyner (in the space between the notes), and George Shearing (that unique balance of chilled-just-so sophistication and relaxed elegance). By admission, Zeitlin is also inspired by 20th century classical music. (I wished I’d asked him which ones.) Buster Williams is, of course, a master of the nimble-fingered, rippling, sonorous (he’s got a thump to his sound) acoustic bass, comparable to (but different from) Ron Carter and Charlie Haden. (Fyi: Haden played on Zeitlin’s mid-60s Live at the Trident album.) Drummer Matt Wilson, as I’ve raved in these pages past, a true contender for one of the finest jazz drummers of Our Day-he plays with the go-get-‘em enthusiasm and leanness of the finest rock & roll drummers and the brilliant finesse of the finest jazz drummers. Wilson is capable of and does play the entire kit but in the service of the music as a whole (as opposed to merely showboating/"sonic exploration"). He also knows not to sound too busy.
Altogether, the Zeitlin trio held the audience in their collective palm at Chicago’s new jazz nightspot Club Blujazz. Williams had a touch of professorial seriousness, Wilson seemed to be having a grand ol’ time, and Zeitlin embodied a balance of the two. They played an AMAZING, invigorating version of the Sonny Rollins chestnut "Oleo." In each piece, Zeitlin and company gave the audience something to hold onto-hard swing, catchy and engaging melodies, unpredictable and cheerfully volatile soloing. They’ve been together a while and it shows-like the best bands and players, they know when to wail and when to rein it in.Special mention goes to Club Blujazz-a comfortably small but certainly not cramped bar and bistro, it had very good acoustics and the artworks on the walls gave the place a slight bohemian vibe. It was, I daresay, a "nice" place that felt welcoming, unpretentious, and un-trendy. When in town, check it out, and by all means, hear the Denny Zeitlin Trio live. [dennyzeitlin.com]