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The enduring power of Denny Zeitlin


Denny Zeitlin, Early Wayne: Solo Piano performances of Early Wayne Shorter Compositions (Sunnyside)

Very little in this world is easier for deep-dish jazz fans than selling them on a solo piano disc of Denny Zeitlin playing early compositions by Wayne Shorter, the great jazz composer who was the co-leader of Weather Report and the best tenor saxophone cohort Miles Davis had after John Coltrane (and probably his most compatible resident composer along with Herbie Hancock).

Zeitlin has been a brilliantly creative jazz pianist since the ’60s, even though his career has had to be mostly concentrated around the San Francisco Bay area. The reason is simple: He also has been, throughout his musical career, a practicing psychiatrist. What he writes by way of explanation here is: “I believe that Wayne is jazz’s greatest living composer and improviser. ... I was a junior in college in 1959 when Wayne Shorter made his recording debut as a leader and was captivated by the originality of his sound and concept, both as a performer and as a composer. He continued to inspire me over the ensuing decades. ...The idea of an entire concert of Wayne’s tunes as launching pads into improvisation occurred to me as I was preparing for an annual performance at the Piedmont piano company in Oakland, Calif. The venue is perfect – a stable of marvelous pianos; an intimate concert space that attracts an attentive and adventurous audience; flawless acoustics, and a staff that really cares about the music.”

Every Shorter tune here is from his golden ’60s except for “Ave Maria” from the ’70s. That includes “Speak No Evil,” “JuJu,” “Infant Eyes,” “Paraphernalia” and “E.S.P.” Not everything on this record is completely arresting but the best of it – the angular solos and the grandiloquence of so much of it – bespeaks a composer/soloist tandem of enduring power.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)


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