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DZ3 lands, takes off, lucky Chicagoan in tow

Denny Zeitlin Trio Denny Zeitlin Trio
For a fellow who’s been recording since 1963, pianist Denny Zeitlin (from the Chicago area, btw) doesn’t have a huge discography it must be his parallel gig keeping him from the keys: psychiatry. (But he did find time to compose the electronica-laced score the creepy 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.) More recent history, Zeitlin has kept an exemplary super-exemplary, in fact trio performing & recording for about five years. Bass ace Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson, and Zeitlin makes three they’ve got the virtually telepathic interplay of a band that’s been together awhile, and Chicagoans were darn lucky to have access to such a combo for nearly a week. Gad, but we live in a great country.

On a cool spring Sunday evening, the DZ3 made the world safe for piano trio fans. They performed mostly standards which in lesser hands might merely be pleasant, enjoyable, and routine, but with these hepcats, the foundations of the building, of society shook, as the trio played with a very high level of élan, energy, and empathy. Zeitlin’s style is deceptively amiable a lyrical amalgam of Monk, Brubeck, Tristano, and Powell, but the awe-inspiring gale winds of 70s McCoy Tyner blow through it too. Zeitlin, as a shrink-doc, must know about tapping into that primal side lurking beneath our collective lobes, as he can be volcanic but there’s warmth and humanity keeping things from being an aural obstacle course. (Music need not be "difficult" to be creative.) Williams’ technique was/is phenomenal, of course, but for me, ‘twas a revelation. As much as I favor Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Drew Gress, et. al., Williams has ‘em all beat: nimble, a tone thick as a Brazilian steak, drawing out cello- and guitar-like sonorities out of his instrument, providing a nice, round "bottom" for the trio’s sound. Wilson? Hyperbole alert: Matt Wilson is the new Shelly Manne. Like Manne, he "keeps time" incredibly, engagingly well. Oh, he can do the cool/neat-o fills, punctuation, and play the usually "underplayed" portion of the drum kit (a la Don Moye, Eddie Prevost, etc.), but it’s the joyously propulsive, joie de vive-type vigor that makes him remarkable. In fact (this’ll likely p.o. the purists, but wtf), Wilson’s approach, despite his obvious jazz chops, reminds me of the better rock & roll drummers: direct, snappy, contained, streamlined, rockin,’ the big beat personified. (Hey, even Elvin Jones had kind words for the drumming of the Who’s Keith Moon.)

Together, these three secretly rule the world the world of piano trios, at the very least. The DZ3 didn’t merely essay jazz standards, they virtually reinvented them, made them sound as if they were written for this group, with nary a cliché or blithe passage heard. Seek out their latest recording Slickrock (MaxJazz) and be forever changed, whether you realize it or not.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Denny Zeitlin Trio
  • Concert Date: 5/14/2006
  • Subtitle: The Denny Zeitlin Trio is one of our era's great bands -- find out why.
  • Venue: Jazz Showcase
  • City State Country: Chicago IL
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