Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh take you on an Electro/Acoustic "Expedition"

08/02/2017 03:00 pm ET

There is a wonderfully free-flowing spirit to the new Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh CD Expedition. The music percolates like water from a newly tapped spring. It has an organic slipstream feel to it that comes from these two brilliant musicians capturing themselves exploring totally “in the moment” improvisations. Script-less forays into the possibilities; Zeitlin’s electro-acoustic keyboard artistry paired with Marsh’s intuitively complimentary percussive accentuation.

As the pianist writes in his liner notes, he has been toying and exploring with electronic instrumentation, integrating it into jazz, classical, funk, rock and free-form since the late sixties. Although considered by many to be one of the finest jazz pianists of his generation, Zeitlin is no stranger to the world of the synthesizer and electronic sounds.  His pioneer work with the then state of the art Prophet analog synthesizer, can be heard on his music for the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (the composer’s only film score) which incorporated his dramatic symphony orchestra score with electronic sounds.

Here is a taste of that evocatively eerie soundtrack:

After an over thirty-year hiatus, Zeitlin’s fascination with the instrumentation and the technological improvements that have been made in the equipment, piqued his curiosity again. His fascination with orchestral arrangements was driven by his desire to have control over the expansive palette of tones, colors and textures that an orchestra can provide, and was realized to some degree in his1978 film score. But what if, with the new technology, one could more easily control all those tones, colors, textures and sounds, by yourself, from a set of keyboards, some hardware and a computer? Zeitlin did just that in 2013. With an upgrade of equipment, he recorded his solo electro/acoustic recording titled Both/And. Then in a nod to minimal collaboration, Zeitlin rejoined with drummer/percussionist George Marsh, an alumnus of his old trio days, and the two released Riding the Moment, a duo electro/acoustic recording in 2015. 

Expedition is a continuation of that collaboration. The two seem to have developed such an intuitive sense of where each other is going that they overcome the obstacle of having to perform this “spontaneous composition,” as Zeitlin calls it, from the isolation of two separate recording booths with no visual contact.

There is no description of this music that can do it justice. You should just sit back and listen to it unfold and see where it takes you. Some of the songs like “Shards of Blue” or the beautiful “One Song” have a form that you can recognize; the briefest of melodies that you can follow. But for the most part listening to Expedition is like immersing yourself into another dimensional experience. 

Zeitlin conjures a treasure trove of exotic sounds; sounds that elicit haunting Gregorian chant-like voices, alien harpsichords, robotic oscillations, tin-can vibraphones, space-born calliopes, Pan flutes, ogre-like bass lines, majestic pipe organs and muted plectral sounds. But as always, his starkly beautiful piano anchors the music to this world in a brilliantly humanistic way. Like two minds fused at the cerebral cortex, Marsh and Zeitlin seem to be able to intuit each other’s thoughts; Marsh gently prodding the pianist ever so slightly. The percussionist offering shimmering cymbals, softly brushed snares, roiling rolls and a general sense of rhythmic surety that propels this music.

The music at its very best evokes a sense of wonder and delight. It also has a spiritual side to it, especially when Zeitlin’s poignant piano comes into play, the sound of human spirit juxtaposed so touchingly against the mechanistic, electronic swirls that he creates around it. 

Click on the link below to hear one of the songs from the album titled “Geysers”

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