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Sunnyside Records
Catalog #: SSC 1456
Released 2016
Produced by Denny Zeitlin

Recording: Piedmont Piano Company, Oakland, CA, Dec. 5, 2014               

Denny Zeitlin — Solo Piano



1) Speak No Evil 7:16

2) Nefertiti 7:55

3) Ju Ju 7:38

4) Teru 7:30

5) Toy Tune 6:04

6) Infant Eyes 8:37

7) Paraphernalia 7:51

8) Ana Maria 6:32

9) E.S.P. 5:54

10) Miyako 4:10




(click on links below for complete reviews)


"One of my favorite new jazz piano albums so far this year is Denny Zeitlin's Early Wayne — featuring Denny's solo impressions of Wayne Shorter compositions. Denny's approach on the album is tremendously exciting and free-spirited. He covers Shorter's works with a range of interpretive attacks without losing the saxophonist's glimmering sensitivity. In Denny's hands, Shorter's music comes rushing at you like a team of horses. The thundering energy closes in on you, and the pounding rhythmic feel continues to churn on the back end until they all pass. In this regard, Denny's piano impressions are exhilarating… On Early Wayne, we hear Denny's passion for the music as he digs deeper and deeper on songs. What I love most is how Denny reconstructs Shorter's stormy and tender themes, launching waves of explorations that find new ground while remaining simpatico with Shorter's own vision. Early Wayne is a concept album meant to be heard from start to finish. In this regard, songs function as chapters of an engaging Shorter biography. Bravo Denny! "
      Marc Myers,


"… Nothing Zeitlin does is half-hearted, or by half-measures… His sound is a cross-section of the classical and the modern, almost overflowing with ideas and sharp, sudden contrasts… Zeitlin explores Shorter's early works on piano through 10 tracks, leaving no room for doubt that this is an artist who immerses himself in the total experience of unwrapping the complex… with equal abandon and laser focus."
      Carol Banks Weber,


"… Early Wayne is a continuation of Zeitlin — long a distinctive and boundary-pushing jazz pianist — paying homage to the highly influential saxophonist and composer. In fact, Early Wayne can be thought of as an extension and continuation of the solo piano live recordings collection Labyrinth (2011), where Zeitlin applied his very personal interpretation of Shorter's most recognized composition "Footprints." Only this time, every song covered here is from Shorter, and all but one fall within his most fertile and groundbreaking Blue Note period from 1964 to 1968. Recording again in front of a live audience, Zeitlin's longstanding familiarity with Shorter songs meant he didn't have to go into a studio and fuss over them, and he felt free to allow his own personality to shine through. Zeitlin takes an approach to the title track of Shorter's best-known album that speaks as much to the creativity of himself as it does the flair of Shorter's songs. For "Speak No Evil" he deconstructs the theme and recasts it, keeping its familiarity but altering its contours. Then he swings it hard before breaking it into fragments again. And yet, the essence — that esoteric essence — of the harmonics remains. In doing so, he uncovers one of the geniuses of Shorter's compositions: they're so sophisticated and so hard to pin down but also have a well-defined character that's downright impossible to erase. "Nefertiti," with its hypnotically circular pattern, is stretched out to the point where it appears almost through composed, then Zeitlin settles into a groove and subtly substitutes and adds chords, successfully avoiding the monotony of playing an endless loop. "Ju Ju" seems to waltz with more animation in Zeitlin's hands, and he's able to deliver every facet of the enigmatic harmony with just his two hands. Zeitlin treats "Teru" with the impressionistic fragility often associated with Bill Evans' "Blue In Green." Tempo is messed with and liberties are taken with the motif for the originally-swinging "Toy Tune," but a steady bass line is maintained with the left hand, keeping the song moored. "Infant Eyes," Shorter's gorgeous masterpiece ballad, is taken on without much adornment here, a wise tact given that this number stands so strong on its own. On the other hand, the dense flowing intro used for "Paraphernalia" doesn't easily tip off this tune until Zeitlin finally launches into the horn parts nearly two minutes in. "Ana Maria" is the lone song that was first recorded after the 60s, taken from Shorter's 1975 Brazilian jazz excursion Native Dancer. Stripping away its fusion clothes, Zeitlin uncovers the vintage Shorter shapes and harmonic progressions that defined his classic period from a decade earlier. "E.S.P.," the third of three Shorter songs introduced on Miles Davis albums from his Second Great Quintet period, is an occasion for Zeitlin to show impressive range, vigor and complex emotion. The closer "Miyako" is another one of Shorter's melancholy and graceful serenades that Zeitlin handles with fitting care. So much has been said, written and covered of one of the few remaining living legends of pre-fusion jazz; honestly, it's reached the saturation point. Perhaps it only took another veteran jazz star who can trace his own groundbreaking career back to the acoustic era to give Shorter's songs tributes that are actually worthwhile hearing nearly as much as the originals."
      S. Victor Aaron,


" Pianist Denny Zeitlin's career in music started just a bit after saxophonist Wayne Shorter showed up on the scene… Both men have enjoyed long and lauded careers… In terms of jazz standards, Shorter's early tunes are as familiar as anybody's — distinctive and cliche-less, unfailingly modern-sounding, even fifty years after they were written. And often covered. Zeitlin's immersion there is something like an embrace of a jazz prayer book, where the readings of those prayers are anything but rote exercises. They feel dynamic and joyful, like rapturous and freewheeling interpretations time-tested truths… infusing classic on-edge beauty with virtuoso pianism and idiosyncratic imagination."
      Dan McClenaghan,


"… Zeitlin travels through these songs, changing and mixing rhythms, going from rubato to swing and back again in the blink of an eye… Recorded live in December of 2014, "Early Wayne" serves to remind the listener not only of what an impressive composer Wayne Shorter has been throughout his career but also what a brilliant interpreter Denny Zeitlin has been and remains. This is music to play over and over as one hears more each time through the program. Close your eyes and enjoy the shower of notes as they rain down on your mind and soul. "
      Richard B. Kamins,


"Oh, how this record defies so many conventions… Here we find one undisputed legend peering deeply into a load of deep back pages from another undisputed legend whose works had originally inspired him in real time…. Zeitlin crosses all divides, solo nonetheless. Finding music within the music, often of his own invention---improvising on an improviser---at 78, we find Zeitlin continuing to break new ground with the passion and vision of the college junior that encountered these tunes for the first time. An absolute artistic triumph, this is the kind of set that raises the bar, sets new standards and brings all the other similar clichés a new day in the sun. Killer stuff throughout."
      Chris Spector,


"This live solo-piano recital is an ambitious undertaking. The program is 10 Wayne Shorter tunes, most from the early 1960s. Shorter's compositions, with their motivically assembled melodic structures and proprietary harmonic environments, are famously challenging. But Denny Zeitlin never sounds worried. He sounds exhilarated, caught up in the adventure.

When Mile Davis' Second Great Quintet introduced "Nefertiti" to the world in 1968, it was a strange, pensive suspension that recycled for eight minutes, without solos. Zeitlin is less interested in the song's ambiguous chord progressions than in its tendril of melody. He delicately traces it and then gradually enlarges it into something deep and dense. He never quite abandons "Nefertiti," even as he flows outward to its distant implications.

On Christmas Eve 1964, Shorter recorded a classic album, Speak No Evil. The title track and "Infant Eyes" became two of his most covered compositions. What is intriguing about Zeitlin's project is that it offers profoundly pianistic versions of these pieces conceived for horns. With rich, ringing piano notes, he rounds their edges. By flooding them with new content, he renders them lush. But if the bridge of "Speak No Evil" becomes an rolling, spilling piano extravagance, "Infant Eyes," reimagined in 7/4, reveals how a piano, in the right hands, can evoke gentle mysteries no horn can touch. Additional high moments include a ballad meditation ("Teru"), a subliminal bossa nova ("Ana Maria") and two elaborate mazes also first introduced on Miles Davis albums ("Paraphernalia" and "E.S.P.").

Given its erudition, it is surprising and impressive that this album was created not with multiple takes and edits in a studio but in one outpouring before a live audience. It was recorded in concert at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2014. Zeitlin has having a really good day."
      Thomas Conrad, JazzTimes, September, 2016


"…He finds freshness in music that already has an aura of modernity despite Shorter's having written most of it decades ago. Zeitlin unleashes his imagination and formidable technique in interpretations of "Speak No Evil," "Nefertiti," "Infant Eyes," "Teru," "Toy Tune," "Paraphernalia," "Miyako," "Ju Ju" and "Ana Maria"… They are all first and only takes, performed before an audience at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California… This is an important addition to Zeitlin's discography, and to the growing list of recordings honoring Shorter, who turns 83 next month."
      Doug Ramsey,


"… The ten tracks that comprise Early Wayne were recorded in performance on December 5, 2014 and each is a magnificent example of an artist displaying the ability to create Jazz at the highest level of personal expression.

Denny's achievements with the music are a testimony to his love of what he is doing, his honesty, and of his artistic devotion to master the discipline necessary to perform what the author Ted Gioia has referred to as "The Imperfect Art."

As the novelist Willa Cather once wrote: "Artistic growth is more than anything a refining of a sense of truthfulness. Only the stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist knows how difficult it is."

I've been listening to Denny's music in performance and on recordings for over 50 years and I view each new opportunity to do as another episode to hear his quest for truth.

In this regard, you won't want to miss his latest efforts as reflected in the ten stunning improvisations that make up Early Wayne: Explorations of Classic Wayne Shorter Compositions."
      Steven Cerra,


"…Denny Zeitlin's selection of these pieces has been lovingly planned… Zeitlin plays them with daring improvisations that always include a graceful bow to Shorter's melodies and end with a blossoming into a glorious liberation of the songs. Each piece played by Zeitlin is a performance of surpassing brilliance and character, captured live on a gloriously-tuned piano, at the end of which there is a sense of joyful release, of music-making free from all constraint…Throughout the performance Denny Zeitlin keeps everything smartly on the move (he is the least sentimental of pianists) spinning the composer's vocal line in introductory passages with rare translucency and with decoration cascading like stardust. There is never a question of attention-seeking; only pianism as natural as breathing. Textures, too, are as light as air. Again detail is as acute as ever… It is in a constant state of wonder and a spirit of uplift that I find myself listening to performances that are carried on an irresistible tide of almost youthful exuberance. I come away with a greater conviction that Denny Zeitlin may well be one of the most remarkable pianists of our time."
      Raul da Gama


"…[Denny Zeitlin] has successfully developed his career on his own terms, following a path that is free of the shibboleths that might constrain his creative ideas. His current release Solo Piano: Early Wayne is a continuation of this voyage… Denny Zeitlin is a dynamic, percussive, pianist with a gift for illuminating modern jazz that is harmonically articulate."
      Pierre Giroux, Audiophile Audition,


"Pianist Denny Zeitlin is the perfect choice to interpret material by who he calls "jazz's greatest living composer," Wayne Shorter. They both are gifted at creating material that can be swinging, clever, tangential, free and explorative… this is a meeting made in heaven… a session to savor for the exposure of one brilliant mind exploring another."
      George W. Harris,