Denny Zeitlin (solo piano) – Remembering Miles  – Sunnyside 

by | Jun 21, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Denny Zeitlin (solo piano) – Remembering Miles – [TrackList follows] – Sunnyside SSC1487, 77:21 [5/10/19] ****:

Pianist Denny Zeitlin is a master of solo performance. His solo piano concerts are always memorable and not to be missed. His solo studio records are also wonderful. Previous live and studio solo documents include 1992’s Denny Zeitlin at Maybeck, 2005’s Solo Voyage, 2010’s Precipice: Solo Piano Concert and 2012’s Wherever You Are – Midnight Moods for Solo Piano. For the past five years, Zeitlin has focused on a single composer to reinterpret on solo piano for his yearly residencies at Oakland, California’s Piedmont Piano Company. In December 2016, Zeitlin emphasized Miles Davis. Zeitlin’s new Remembering Miles (Sunnyside Records) is the live recording of his tribute to the famed composer, trumpeter and visionary jazz artist; it is one of Zeitlin’s finest and best solo piano releases and is a must-listen.

The 77-minute Remembering Miles contains 13 tracks Miles wrote or which are associated with Davis; the material spans from the post-war bop years to Davis’ 1980s output. Zeitlin does not simply transpose the 13 tunes to piano. He takes the compositions into different musical topography while broadening the pieces, creating explorative moments, and expanding listeners’ preconceptions of both well-known and obscure numbers. Zeitlin’s imaginative improvisations use intriguing tempo and rhythmic options, various moods and unusual textures, and intelligent as well as intuitive choices.

Zeitlin commences with a lengthy rendition of “Solar,” attributed to Davis (some say Davis borrowed his composition from another tune by guitarist Chuck Wayne), which is from Walkin’ (1954). Zeitlin establishes how he can realign harmonics, giving “Solar” a shadowed quality at the start and then later a lively progression. Next is “Dear Old Stockholm,” a traditional Swedish folk tune Davis turned into a jazz piece; and the ballad “Flamenco Sketches.” “Dear Old Stockholm” was arranged by Stan Getz for Davis’ 1958 ‘Round About Midnight LP; Zeitlin’s adaptation of “Dear Old Stockholm” is a bit slower than Davis’ medium-swinging version. Zeitlin also adds a few new touches and stimulating improvisations. The set’s longest track is a splendid “Flamenco Sketches” (co-written by Davis and pianist Bill Evans, from 1959’s Kind of Blue). Zeitlin stays true to the tune’s elegance but spins in some creatively inspired slices, including a strummed introduction; dazzling lower-key and higher-register melodic interpolations; and some invigorating modal fluctuations.

The album’s mid-point highlights are two readings of “Milestones,” a composition some believe John Lewis penned but is usually credited to Davis. The first “Milestones” is based on Davis’ title track from his 1958 record of the same name; while the other is from 1947. On the 1958 “Milestones,” Zeitlin utilizes Davis’ rising and ebbing modal theme as a central nucleus while providing jumping musical arrays, tempo adjustments and some supplementary harmonies. The 1947 version has a jaunty, slightly bebop characteristic. Zeitlin supplies harmonic switchbacks, offers a calmer pulse, and generates an older-era feel reminiscent of pre-‘60s jazz. Zeitlin does two tunes Davis recorded in his 1960s period. The sublime “Circle” is from 1967’s Miles Smiles. “Circle” has an ambiguous ambiance and Zeitlin’s touch is appropriately enigmatic, with modifying harmonies. Tony Crombie and Bennie Green’s “So Near, So Far” comes from 1963’s Seven Steps to Heaven. This cut is lighter and showcases a brighter disposition, where Zeitlin’s left and right hands move across the keyboard in beautiful simpatico. Davis found 1980s success with pop covers from Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson. Here, Zeitlin converts Lauper’s “Time After Time” (from Davis’ 1985 release You’re Under Arrest) into a reconstruction which only occasionally dips into the familiar main motif or verse. Most people probably wouldn’t recognize Zeitlin’s transfiguration if they didn’t know the title beforehand.

Zeitlin concludes with a minor Davis work, the loping “Weirdo” (which Davis taped in 1954; it is on the 2001 CD reissue of Miles Davis Volume 1). This is a buoyant track where Zeitlin demonstrates his ability to judiciously comp with one hand while he improvises with his other hand. There are numerous Davis tributes and one of the best solo piano homages is Denny Zeitlin’s Remembering Miles, a carefully chosen collection which displays Davis’ many moods but also exhibits Zeitlin’s virtuosity and finely-honed interpretive aptitude.

Dear Old Stockholm
Flamenco Sketches
Milestones (1958 Version)
Milestones (1947 Version)
So Near, So Far
Time After Time
The Theme

—Doug Simpson


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