Denny Zeitlin Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Denny Zeitlin Trio

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Last year's Solo Voyage (MaxJazz), the most recent release from pianist Denny Zeitlin, is a solo disc and a significant departure from what he'll present at Jazz Showcase with his long-running trio, but the differences help reveal the sweep of his talent and restless imagination. The trio format has defined almost all the music that Zeitlin, a Highland Park native, has made since he started his career in the 60s, when he was also a med student at Johns Hopkins (he maintains a separate life as a psychotherapist); his first three discs, recorded in the mid-60s for Columbia, were roundly praised then and are fondly recalled now. But the new disc allows Zeitlin's melodic pathways and harmonic architecture to appear more clearly; once you've heard him play solo, you notice them even more in his trio work. Solo Voyage also features Zeitlin's first use of synths since 1978, when he wrote and recorded the electroacoustic score for the classic remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It's not an unwelcome move, though: Zeitlin's discursive and mercurial 1973 disc, Expansion, remains one of the half dozen best examples in jazz of a true fusion of acoustic and electronic sounds, and here as there the synths provide another context for the striking colors he usually finds in the acoustic piano. Zeitlin's current trio, with veteran bassist Buster Williams and young-gun percussionist Matt Williams, is among the most cohesive and unfettered in jazz, and it's helped Zeitlin gain some new attention as an overlooked modern giant. See also Wednesday and Thursday; the trio's run continues through Sunday, May 14. Tue 5/9, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.

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