Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Michael Zilber: Originals for Originals

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Originals for Originals

Instrumentalist/composer Michael Zilber is better known by fellow musicians than by jazz fans. Born in Vancouver, B.C., he moved to Boston in his late teens, then to New York City about five years later. It didn’t take long for his talents to be recognized by artists who frequented that area. Zilber performed or recorded with giants such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, the Brecker brothers and Dave Liebman. 

Zilber’s second album as a leader, Stranger in Brooklyn, was included in a 1992 Jazz Fusion list of “The Best 30 Recordings of All Time.” He now works out of the San Francisco area.

He wrote all the tracks on this new album, his 11th, and these compositions are done to acknowledge the reed artists he considered to be masters of their instruments, and whose music strongly influenced his own development. They include Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Dave Liebman, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Paul Desmond. 

The track titles are plays on the names: “Breckerfast Club” and “Leaves” are dedicated to Brecker; “Party Sonny” acknowledges Rollins; “Autumn Lieb” and “Lieb Dich” honor Liebman; Shorter gets the nod with “Weather Wayne” and “Pastel Blues”; “Hen House” is a nod toward Henderson; “Late Night Trane” and “Coltraning Days” credit Coltrane; and “St. Paul” is a shout-out toward Desmond.

Zilber alternates between tenor and soprano sax. His supporting rhythm section features  pianists David Kikoski and Matt Clark; bassists James Genus and Peter Barshay; and  drummers Clarence Penn and Akira Tana. Zilber has played with all of them at some point in his career; as a result, each combo configuration “thinks as one.”

This album superbly exemplifies the style used by today’s artists. It’s beyond bop, often using altered chord structures; the mid- and up-tempo charts swing nicely, and the ballads are thoughtful and poignant. This is a smooth, richly enjoyable group.

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