Vancouver native and San Francisco resident Michael Zilber adapts the poetry of onetime American poet laureate Billy Collins to a compelling song cycle in his fourth outing as a leader. Accompanied by outstanding pianist John Burr and Taylor Eigsti's former rhythm tandem of bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis, and with singer Andy Kirshner delivering Collins' bracing words, Zilber creates thoughtful, effective backdrops for Collins' poetry.
The haunting love song "Nightclub" makes reference to Johnny Hartman in the lyrics as Zilber shadows Kirshner's vocals with robust tenor sax lines. The darkly evocative "Not Touching" finds Zilber switching to soprano sax and blowing with the unbridled brilliance of his mentor Dave Liebman. The ensemble conjures up an invigorating samba vibe on "Walking Across the Atlantic," which has Kirshner sounding more Michael Franks than Hartman, and they turn Collins' meditation on death ("My Number") into a swinging, upbeat ditty. On the humorous side is "Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House," about Collins' travails with the neighbor's barking dog. Zilber shines on soprano sax on the vibrant "Paradelle for Susan," and he blows the tenor with gusto on "Vade Mecum," which bears the cryptic line: "I want the scissors to be sharp and the table perfectly level when you cut me out of my life and past me in that book you always carry."
Other highlights in the intriguing po'jazz hybrid include an earthy "The Blues," a "The Man in the Moon" as bright and buoyant as the Beatles' "Penny Lane" (but bearing walking basslines and an urgent tenor sax solo), and the dynamic title track, based on the Collins poem that inspired Zilber's concept for this collection. This is art music of the highest order performed with passion, wit and verve.