When pianist Rachel Z led her trio into the intimate confines of the 5:01 Bar, you had to forgive her if she was slightly disoriented. Rachel put on hold her solo career and promoting her new CD interpreting the music of Joni Mitchell, Moon at the Window
, for a stint touring America’s biggest arenas in the band of prog-rock icon Peter Gabriel.
The Manhattan-born and raised Rachel Nicolazzo (a.k.a. Rachel Z) joined Gabriel for a 20-city North American tour in fall 2002. "Peter Gabriel is one of my major influences and the only person for whom I would take a break from my solo career," says Rachel. Gabriel is taking a break until the summer, so Z hit the road with drummer Bobbie Rae and bassist Nikki Parrott.
A classically trained pianist and vocalist, Z was turned on to jazz when she heard Miles Davis’ Miles Smiles
when she was 15 and listening to Herbie Hancock harmonies over Wayne Shorter’s compositions. It was through Shorter, a frequent collaborator, that Z met Joni Mitchell.
"Joni is an artist whose song poems have been a life guide which helped me grow and accept the duality of life," says Rachel. "Joni also embraced great jazz artists whom I treasure. I remember the night I went to her house with Wayne (Shorter) and heard him play gorgeous melodies on her poems. She was confident and inspiring to me and I left feeling more determined to follow my heart." The result of that inspirational visit is Moon At the Window
where Rachel swings through versions of Mitchell classics such as "Big Yellow Taxi" and "Both Sides Now."
The 5:01 is the kind of old-school jazz club where every section is still a smoking section and the hushed babble of background conversation can intrude upon the appreciation of the music. That point was driven home when one patron interrupted Z as she was introducing the next tune to ask, "Excuse me Rachel, but are you are as bothered by these rude people talking as we are?" That prompted the club’s owner to step to the microphone to chastise one particular table of chatterboxes to kindly cease conversation and "SHUT THE F*** UP!" Drum roll. Big laughs.
Exit chatterboxes from the club.
But we weren’t done with them just yet. More on that in a minute.
Describing a concert you didn’t attend is a bit like somebody showing you pictures from a vacation somewhere you’ve never been. Rachel’s interpretations of Mitchell’s originals were faithful to the originals, yet bold in the way Z’s trio brought their own creativity to "Free Man In Paris" or "Help Me." The watertight rhythm section of Bobbie Rae’s drumming and Parrot’s fluid acoustic bass lines capably aided Z’s piano passages into an impeccable fusing of jazz and pop tastes.
Z, with a different trio, last graced Columbus in 2001 with her album of Wayne Shorter interpretations, On the Milky Way Express
, but said she appreciated how enthusiastically wild her music had been received then. There’s a fine line between being enthusiastically wild and being boorishly rude.
Remember the chatterboxes that had left (or been asked to) earlier? The 5:01's front window looks out onto the street and pedestrians can walk by and see the band as they’re cooking on stage. The chatterboxes two guys and a girl came back to the front window, dropped their pants and mooned the audience. Rachel and Nikki, turned and gasped in amused horror, but never lost the groove. The club’s owner and sound engineer were not as amused and chased the trio of twits down the street.
As the song ended, someone commented, "Well, I guess somebody took the title of the album literally because we got ‘Mooned at the Window.’ " Rachel and the band seemed to find that funny and we all laughed. It made for an unusual end to a night of great music.