WBGO Radar

Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple

Peter Zak Trio CD The Disciple

Pianist Peter Zak’s album The Disciple offers a lesson in how jazz commits musicians to give and take across generations as they build the music we love.

“Jazz performance generally consists of improvisation, rendering every musician on the bandstand an instant composer,” says Zak. “But you still also need that foundational element that’s built on a basis of collective knowledge… only then, do we stand a chance for that deep groove, and for imagination to take flight.”

Zak's trio grooves, and soars, on The Disciple. It opens with “The Loop,” which floats over the bright and easy pulse of Peter Washington on bass and Willie Jones III on drums, whose singing brushwork evokes the great Jo Jones.

“The hookup between the ride cymbal and the bass doesn’t get any better than that,” says Zak. “The reason I play jazz is basically for that feel.”

Corea’s waltz sets the stage for what Zak has in mind: its melody alternates between written and improvised passages, just as the album alternates between Zak’s own compositions and homages to his musical heroes – Corea, Hawes, Monk, Silver, Hope and Hancock.

He even honors the Russian classical composer Alexander Scriabin, with a solo version of his “Prelude Op. 5 No. 32,” whose harmonies and symmetry, Zak says, presage the approach to composition of jazz standards.

Zak’s “Montserrat” offers Jones an opportunity to open up his box of drummer’s dynamite, then he eases back to his brushes for Elmo Hope’s bluesy “Barfly.” Silver’s  “Nutville” takes flight into swing, with Jones’s ride cymbal for wings.

The melody of Hancock’s “Requiem” – one of his earliest compositions – is a study of contrasts in major and minor, and gives bassist Peter Washington’s an opportunity to stretch out and sing on his bass, as also does on  Hawes’s “Jackie.”

Zak’s fluid, confident version of Monk’s “Criss Cross” demonstrates why this and other similarly knotty tunes have become favorites of improvisers around the world.

“As challenging and those songs are melodically and structurally,” says Zak, “they function extraordinary as springboards to improvisation and collective interaction.”

The album closes with Zak’s “Nightfall in Kandy,” an elegiac evocation of the landscape of central Sri Lanka, and “The Disciple,” a driving swinger.

In his essay on education, the sixteenth-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne says a good student grasps the purpose of knowledge, not just its complexity.

“The most manifest sign of wisdom is a constant happiness,” says Montaigne. “It’s state is like that of things above the moon: always serene.”

With The Disciple, Zak demonstrates a serenity that is the result of years of hard work, both learning and teaching. He is indeed a good student – absorbing the best lessons of the past - and teacher, with his own invention – which is just as jazz commands.

Zak’s trio celebrates the release of The Disciple on October 22nd at New York’s Smoke Jazz Club.

  - Tim WIlkins, WBGO digital content manager

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