Artist: Denny Zeitlin
Album: Remembering Miles
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
Dear Old Stockholm
Milestones (1958 Version)
Milestones (1947 Version)
So Near, So Far
Time After Time
Few forward-thinking jazz musicians are better informed from looking back than pianist Denny Zeitlin. In regularly paying homage to lifelong inspirations such as Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter, he finds in this jazz of the past the seeds for jazz of the future. So it shouldn’t be at all surprising that he tapped into a rich vein of ideas when he used a recent, solo piano performance at Oakland California’s Piedmont Piano Company as occasion to reinterpret some of the songs associated with the great Miles Davis.
Remembering Miles — releasing on May 10, 2019 from Sunnyside Records — is the document from that recital, and just as he did with his solo piano take on Shorter tunes, Zeitlin’s appreciation shown to another artist does even more to increase appreciation of Denny Zeitlin himself.
In taking on Miles Davis’ work, one doesn’t simply pull out compositions credited to ‘Miles Davis,’ as Miles Davis songs can be songs he actually penned, songs credited to him but likely at least partially written by someone else or songs officially composed by others but which he took over simply because he put his own unmistakable stamp on them. Zeitlin thus properly covers songs prominently recorded by Miles that characterize the true essence of Miles, regardless of whether Miles really birthed these songs or not. That applies even to ancient, traditional folk songs like “Dear Old Stockholm,” which Zeitlin plays with just the right measure of zest as Miles had been able to do.
But while Denny Zeitlin wants to capture the aura of Miles, he doesn’t seek to mimic Miles, either. He begins “Solar” by inverting the harmonic structure of the song, making it darker toned but still wholly recognizable, then embarks on a jaunty development that keeps the original conception right at arm’s length. In contrast to the smooth cadence Miles applied to Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” Zeitlin deconstructs and expands the song (as he does all over this set) while retaining a connection to the underlying swing and its pretty melody.
“Milestones (1958 version)” was the first manifestation of Miles’ innovative modalism that later flowered on Kind Of Blue. Here, Zeitlin entwines his left- and right-handed figures in such a sophisticated way. Denny Zeitlin also mines deeper the possibilities presented by the Miles/Bill Evans modal classic “Flamenco Sketches,” playing with a flow that sets a slightly hopeful, slight melancholy affection. “Milestones (1947 version)” is of course, the John Lewis song that’s archetypal of another era of jazz: bebop. This rendition cleaves close to its original intent, rich with full chords.
The gorgeously mercurial “Circle,” the lone representative from Miles’ Second Great Quintet, is given to sensitive treatment by Zeitlin with classical flourishes. The eminently easy groovin’ “Weirdo” (“Sid’s Ahead” on Milestones) struts just as confidently in Zeitlin’s hands, who shows off a deft economy of notes with his comping hand as he improvises with the other.
The Cyndi Lauper hit “Time After Time” became a mainstay in Miles’ live rotation toward the end of his life, as his affection for deep melodies no matter which canon they’re drawn from is a constant through his 45-year career. But you wouldn’t immediately recognize it as Zeitlin plays it as he spends the opening moments barely referring to it, gradually dropping more hints as he goes along but coyly stopping just short of fully giving in to the popular portrayal of the song.
The most inspired choice of these songs has to be “Tomaas.” The only selection from Davis’ final, Warner Brothers period, Zeitlin plays an abstraction with a prepared piano before settling into the familiar motif, able to retain the funk with the help of a bass line he created on his own that lends the song a sharper shape than the jam-my original.
By reaping the best of both worlds in respecting Miles’ original portrayals of his songs and moving them forward with imaginative, dynamically fresh takes, Denny Zeitlin pays ultimate homage to Miles Davis. The Prince of Darkness was a master at recognizing other people good ideas and making them great; Zeitlin does the same while he’s Remembering Miles.
by S. Victor Aaron