Pianist and composer Denny Zeitlin is heralded for his innovations in the world of jazz music. His consistent ability to find creative ways to expand and adapt within and beyond the genre throughout his tremendous career has been remarkable. Zeitlin remains a fan of the music and other innovators, including the singular saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, whose amazing compositions are featured on Zeitlin’s new recording, Early Wayne.
Zeitlin first heard Shorter’s music on the saxophonist’s debut recording Introducing Wayne Shorter (Vee Jay) in 1959. Zeitlin’s appreciation for Shorter’s work only grew over the course of the years:
“His music was innovative, cliché-free, with unusual shapes of phrases, twists and turns, deliciously fresh harmonies, and melodies that kept reverberating. There was a relaxed intensity to his playing, and his solos always took the listener on an exciting journey. Wayne's evolution has continued to inspire me over the ensuing decades, and I've recorded his compositions on a number of occasions.”
It was an opportunity for a live solo performance that inspired Zeitlin to focus on Shorter’s music for this project. Zeitlin chose to play some of Shorter’s early compositions for his December 5, 2014 performance at the esteemed Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California. The majority of the pieces come from the early 1960s, with “Ana Maria” coming from the 1970s. The performance was recorded, preserving Zeitlin’s intriguing takes on these classic compositions.
The recording begins with a freely played "Speak No Evil," Zeitlin exploring the bridge at some length before impressionism segues into the pulse and form of the piece. "Nefertiti" follows as a haltingly introspective ballad that develops a subtle groove. "Ju Ju" is mysterious and intense, while "Teru" is reservedly and hauntingly beautiful. The driving "Toy Tune" alternates between a fierce samba and furious walking bass, showcasing Zeitlin's keyboard dexterity.
The lovely "Infant Eyes" is beautifully rendered in 7/4 in Zeitlin's good hands, followed by a varied and exciting rendition of "Paraphernalia." The probing "Ana Maria" is a wonderful Bossa Nova change of pace with its airy sensitivity. Zeitlin's version of "E.S.P." is fantastically wrought with an implied rapid pace but laid back feel. "Miyako" concludes the program with a gently lilting waltz, one of Zeitlin's specialties.
Hearing a legend perform the music of another legend is always illuminating. On Early Wayne, Denny Zeitlin’s appreciation of the music of Wayne Shorter is heard in the way he approaches the material, lovingly but with an air of adventure.