Saxophonist Michael Zilber has an unusual geographic history. He was born in Vancouver, Canada before moving to Boston as a teenager. He moved to New York and worked with Sonny Sitt, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Liebman, Dave Douglas, Rachel Z and Narada Michael Walden among many. While In New York, he recorded two critically acclaimed albums, The Heretic and Stranger In Brooklyn as a sole band leader. But his career has been anchored in San Francisco and he has released several albums as a solo or co-leader. His 2000 release Two Coasts and in 2003, Reimagined garnered significant critical acclaim. Zilber is currently with Origin Records of Seattle. Additionally, he directs the Advanced Jazz Workshop in Berkeley, California.
Zilber's eleventh album is an inspired homage to his saxophone heroes, including Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Dave Liebman, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Paul Desmond. Breaking fast out of the blocks, "Breckerfast Club" (obvious reference) is hard-charging bop led by Zilber's prominent reed work. The quartet (David Kikoski/piano; James Genus/bass and Clarence Penn/drums) is talented and cohesive. Kikoski keeps pace with a rollicking solo full of chord accents and notation before returning the jam to Zilber. The rhythm section, with agile drum fills brings the jam to a conclusion. Kikoski and Genus collaborate on an ethereal opening to a moving ballad ("Leaves", also for Brecker). Genus shines on his double bass solo. Zilber's graceful playing is an appropriate complement to Kikoski.
Adopting a Caribbean tempo, "Partly Sonny", (as described in the liner notes) is a homage to Rollins' calypso number "St. Thomas". The combination of Zilber's instrumental versatility and rhythmic punctuation with Kikoski's warm, lyrical runs is as good as jazz gets. Penn contributes an understated solo. Switching to soprano, Zilber adds melancholy shading to "Autumn Lieb", drawing on the essence of Dave Liebman's interpretation of "Autumn Leaves". Again Kikoski's piano is elegant and Zilber evokes a haunting tenderness, while still pushing the tonal boundaries of the instrument. In his tribute to Wayne Shorter ("Weather Wayne"), the quartet articulates the free-form dynamics and tempo variations that defined Shorter's influence on the iconic jazz fusion ensemble, Weather Report. The second Shorter-inspired arrangement ("Pastel Blues") has a dream-like 3/4 time signature that speaks to Shorter's individual work. Kikoski's solo glows with richness and Zilber tenor accents are emotionally charged.
For "Hen House" there is a roster change as Bay Area players Matt Clark (piano), Peter Bashay (double bass) and Akira Tana (drums) mime classic Joe Henderson Blue Note jazz licks. Clark has a sprightly piano run and this quartet gets into a palpable groove. The basic ensemble returns on "Late Night Trane (In The Distance)". And this is a stirring, meditative nod to the legendary John Coltrane. Trane was adept at ballads (as evidenced on his 1963 Impulse album Ballads). Zilber's elegiac ode transcends romantic mood with its supple phrasing. Back on soprano for the other Liebman-esque track ("Lieb Dich"), Zilber and company work from inspiration, not derivative homage. Bop swing and instrumental exchanges are highlights. The same dynamics inhabit "Coltraning Daze". An unpredictable drum solo starts things off, then early 60's era instrumental prowess take over. There are numerous changes (even "If I Only Had A Brain"), and the group's cohesion is obvious. "St. Paul" (Desmond) is a wistful reminder of the heartfelt sincerity of Paul Desmond. Zilber's use of melody connection to the alto saxophonist's classic version of "Emily" (with a hint of "Bye Bye Blackbird") is superb.
Michael Zilber - Originals For The Originals is a thoughtful labor of love to Jazz!