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Stairway To The Stars

by Denny Zeitlin

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The trio is an extraordinary setting for pianist and rhythm section. Experienced musicians can take advantage of the flexibility that an ensemble of this size can afford them if they find the right collaborators. The forward-leaning pianist Denny Zeitlin has always been a fan of the trio with its unique musical challenges and rewards, though he finds himself playing in this setting infrequently. Opportunities for solo performances and electronic music work have become his focus over the past two decades.

It was with pleasure that Zeitlin accepted an invitation to record a trio album for Venus Records of Japan entitled As Long As There’s Music in 1996. The pianist knew that he wanted to invite the great bassist Buster Williams to be a part of the ensemble alongside drummer Al Foster. In 2001, the San Francisco Jazz Festival invited Zeitlin’s trio to perform and, finding Foster busy, Zeitlin found a more than capable substitute in the young Matt Wilson, thus establishing the Denny Zeitlin Trio that has been the same ever since.

In 2009, Sunnyside released a collection of recordings by the Trio, In Concert, Featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson. The tracks were collected from live performances done at The Jazz Bakery in Culver City, California and The Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque, New Mexico from 2001 to 2006.

The Trio’s new release – Stairway To The Stars – is a full set of pieces performed at The Jazz Bakery in November 2001 at the ensemble’s inception, and recorded by the late, great engineer Drew Daniels. This exquisite recording captures the group at its best, all members locked into a fantastic musical dialog on eight beloved standards and one Zeitlin original.

The recording begins with a rolling take on Harry Warren’s “There Will Never Be Another You” which is followed by Gene de Paul’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is” in a subtle yet voluptuous rendition. The Trio continues with the lilting Jimmy Van Heusen ballad “I Could Have Told You,” showcasing the impressionistic style that Zeitlin loves to incorporate. A rambunctious take of Sonny Rollins’s “Oleo” adds some vigor to the proceeding. The spare version of Matt Malneck and Frank Signorelli’s “Stairway To The Stars” really highlights the resonance of Williams’s bass playing and Wilson’s tasteful brushwork.

The disc continues with Ben Oakland’s “I’ll Take Romance,” introduced by Zeitlin’s introspective solo piano before Williams and Wilson materialize. Wayne Shorter’s “Deluge” is preceded by a tremendous solo bass exposition by Williams while the tune follows with its unique variety of steady swing and offbeat composition. Richard Rodgers’s “Spring Is Here” is performed in a mysterious, hazy fashion and is followed by Zeitlin’s own “Out For A Stroll,” a jaunty, swinging number that encapsulates the group’s ability to strut while laying back.

Stairway To The Stars is a fantastic example of the melding of three talented individuals into an astoundingly effective ensemble. Denny Zeitlin, Buster Williams and Matt Wilson compose a true musical powerhouse, though their music presents its strength with subtlety and taste rather than bombast.


released July 8, 2014

Denny Zeitlin - piano
Buster Williams - bass
Matt Wilson - drums


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