Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh – Riding The Moment (2015)

Riding The Moment recalls the mid-seventies moments of pianist Denny Zeitlin, when his ground-breaking early experiments of creatively incorporating the synthesizer into jazz led to trio recordings that included George Marsh on drums. After almost forty years apart, long-time notable pianist Zeitlin calls back his old partner to explore some old ideas in a 21st century setting.

Coming off a full-fledged return to electronics that culminated in the solo outing Both/And (2013), Zeitlin wanted a partner with whom to volley ideas back and forth, and his old partner Marsh came to mind. Riding The Moment (available June 9, 2015 courtesy of Sunnyside Records) is a record created entirely in that moment by both participants, hardly the first time such a thing’s been done. But the results are uncanny, if nothing else, in its sleek, modern sonic shapes that arise with no forethought.

In contrast to those 70s explorations, there’s no bass player this time — it’s just a duet — but Zeitlin has more than made up for the lack of a bassist, thanks to technology and the know-how to leverage it. At the same time, he’s never lost touch with his beginnings in post-bop nor forsaken his formal studies of music theory and composition. As a result, Zeitlin’s brand of free jazz doesn’t sacrifice melodicism in its pursuit of instantaneous composing.

The clash of the future and the past sparks the most interesting of hybrids. Right off on the opener “Back On The Horse,” improvised synth parts add a whole new dimension to improv, because Zeitlin can add color on the fly (almost everything heard on these recordings are performed live in the studio). As a lead synthesizer part mimics a trumpet, the whole thing swings even when the rhythm isn’t tightly maintained. Zeitlin nearly perfectly simulates an acoustic bass for “Fermenting”, as the timbres of his electronic sounds match the timbres of Marsh’s cymbals.

An “electric bass” even assumes a lead role on “Marching To A Different Drummer,” and minor acoustic guitar parts with spacey, choir-like synth washes round out the enigmatic character of this song that behaves like an acoustic jazz trio tune at its core. Marsh’s drums introduce a jaunty funk beat on “Wheels & Tracks” that quickly dissolves and goes free amid electronic backdrops with alternating piano and “acoustic bass” remarks. Competing synth patterns get layered on top of each other, and all along, Marsh churns along vigorously with loads of bombs and short fills.

The freedom goes to an extreme for “Vortex,” as drums, piano and various high-tech gizmos swirl around each other. On the opposite end of this short excursion on the wild side, the extended piece “Down The Rabbit Hole” features Zeitlin’s synthesizers mimicking a string orchestra down to including violin plucks. Just as the performance threatens to runs out of gas, a faux, fanciful flute solo sets the songs in a new direction, and other kinds of synth leads are matched to different but loosely connected motifs. That’s followed by another long improvisation “Quest,” which is close to straight acoustic jazz in first half but the melody is free to a course of its own device. A dramatic strings phase in middle — which underscores Zeitlin’s interest in and understanding of classical music — is followed by further evolutions of the probing melody on piano reinforced by Marsh’s highly sensitive and pliable drumming.

Denny Zeitlin has been a psychiatrist for almost as long as he’s been a professional musician, and he assuredly understands how intuition works from a clinical sense. Riding The Moment is a demonstration of his understanding of intuition first hand, as a practitioner of jazz. There, too, his knowledge on the topic is at the doctorate level.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron