Michael Zilber's resumé is rich and varied, deserving much wider recognition. Originally from Canada, he spent the first part of his career in New York then moved across the country to San Francisco, where he now resides. This is by far his most ambitious project and first recording with big bands, following the very successful Originals for the Originals and the quartets he shared with guitar great John Stowell. Zilber's writing reflects a deep knowledge and appreciation of the jazz tradition, as many of his original compositions paraphrase and borrow from familiar chord sequences—"Fantasia on Trane Changes" and "Repressions" being clear examples of this approach. Overall, Zilber seems to prefer a middle of-the-road aesthetic compared with Maria Schneider's more imaginative writing and Darcy James Argue and Michael Leonhart's iconoclastic takes on the genre.
The juxtaposition between east and west is reflected by the choice of material, which aims at leveraging, to borrow from Zilber's own words, "more of a sense of urgency with the New York band and more of a feeling of contemplation and space with the Bay Area band." The results are captivating, with a more hard-swinging approach prevailing with the former and a more lyrical one with the latter. Each ensemble is of the highest quality, both in interpreting Zilber's arrangements and in the solo department, unfortunately not identified in the scanty liner notes.
Turning to the material, many are the highlights. From the New York band it is worth mentioning opening burner "Hen House", reminiscent of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge", particularly in Zilber's effective solo; the arrangement and solos of a complex and introspective reading of Wayne Shorter's "Fall"; Miles Davis' "Joshua", based on a funky bassline by John Benitez and featuring the Rhodes piano of Mike Holober (of Gotham Jazz Orchestra); and the ingenious "The Breckerfast Club" dedicated to and based on some of the late Michael Brecker's patterns and featuring an exciting saxophone chase.
The Bay Area band's highlights are the heartfelt dedication "Shiva" to bassist John Shifflett, featuring Dan Feiszli's warm bass; "Another Prayer", a John Coltrane-inspired composition and arrangement; and "Weather Shorter", a dedication to Shorter's Weather Report period featuring Zilber's soprano. Speaking of which, it is only fair to emphasize the leader's contributions on both tenor and soprano, besides his composing, arranging and conducting.
Less convincing are the readings of "Skylark" and "Over The Rainbow", with a rather conventional vocal contribution by Joe Bagale. Overall a fine album deserving a rapid follow-up.