Vancouver-born, San Francisco-based Michael Zilber, a talent of the saxophone, a dexterous composer, and a respected educator, exhibited his impressive skills side by side with jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Dave Liebman, Miroslav Vitous, and Dave Douglas.
Now, leading an elastic quartet whose reliable rhythm section includes David Kikoski on piano, James Genus on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums, Zilber prepared Originals for the Originals, a beautiful 11-track album that homages several jazz saxophone masters. Here, he explores the boundaries beyond those traditional melodies and harmonies that served him as an inspiration.
The opener, "Breckerfast Club", the first of a pair of earnest dedications to Michael Brecker, literally made my feet move and my body shake such was the rhythmic punch and swinging urgency of its straight-ahead efflorescence. Playing with nerve and spectacle, the band serves up jabbing improvisations, starting with Kikoski who, cooking up as fast as objective, embarks on euphoric rides full of melodic and rhythmic intention. The bandleader showcases an extensive collection of brisk phrases and lucid rhythmic figures rooted in the post-bop prime directive. A vamp is put up near the end, allowing and inviting Penn to percolate his percussive imagination through a creative jaunt.
Not every piece fly so high, and the ballad "Leaves (For Michael Brecker)" soars steadily with a low-key mood, like a dreamy cloud in the blue sky. Genus puts his bass to sing a nice melody upfront, being interrupted by the main theme. He resumes the solo afterward with unclouded expression. Because ballads always crave bass solos, he does it again on "Late Night Trane", where Penn's luminescent brushing hinges on the melodic cadences uttered by piano, bass, and sax.
Another tribute is prepared for Coltrane on "Coltraning Daze", a more expeditious episode triggered by a drum solo and enhanced with breezy soul-jazz flavors whose harmonic engagement feels more like Tommy Flanagan rather than McCoy Tyner.
Steeped in the ways of the progressive jazz/fusion celebrated by the Weather Report, "Weather Wayne", moves with the help of heavy rock beats in a dazzling rhythmic synchronization with the piano strokes. Zilber's soprano cascades, never too harsh and never too polished, find a dedicated ally in Kikoski's responsive plasticity. Definitely a peak moment.
Both "Autumn Lieb" and "Lieb Dich" are praise for the great Dave Liebman. Opposing to the former, steeped in "Autumn in New York" and "Autumn Leaves" (its inspirational sources), the latter tune is an accelerated hard swinger that boasts a vibrant section featuring cute soprano inflections with only drums paving the ground, as well as interesting dialogues between sax and piano by the end.
A proper homage to master saxophonists would never be complete if Sonny Rollins wasn't considered. "Partly Sonny", propelled by an Afro-Latin pulse, is perfectly descriptive in its title, attaching an original melodic segment to Sonny's celebrated "St.Thomas".
Zilber blends influences with purpose and insight without ever compromising his own creative voice. It's time to pay attention to his many musical qualities and if you're not familiar with his work, start with this alluring past-present effort.