So grateful to Paul Rauch and All About Jazz for about as good a review as anyone who does this could hope for!
A first encounter with saxophonist Michael Zilber in a live setting leaves a very large impression. Enshrouding the marvelous facility and deeply melodic approach to improvisation is “the sound” which allows the listener to receive the music in a soulful way. When that sound and imagination are driven by the post-bop mastery of drummer Mike Clark, illuminating things can and will take place.
Celebrating a ten-year friendship, Zilber and Clark laid down this session in Oakland in 2018 for Sunnyside, pairing them with Bay Area stalwarts Matt Clark on piano and bassist Peter Barshay. The quartet lays into two Zilber originals, and covers ranging from Wayne Shorter to Thelonious Monk and Lennon-McCartney.
No matter the vehicle of song, the session is another opportunity to hear Zilber work his way through the tunes with artistic precision, the objective of beauty clearly leading the way. Beginning with Zilber’s “Barshay Fly” and “Sonny Monk,” the quartet immediately comes off as a group of voices well familiar with each other. That intimacy is there for the listener, moving forward through an interpretation of McCoy Tyner‘s “Passion Dance” and Zilber’s emotive take on Shorter’s rare gem, “Miyako.” Clark’s lovely brush and cymbal work illuminates this rarely-heard Shorter masterpiece.
Clark is well known for his work with luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Woody Shaw, and Bobby Hutcherson. Zilber, though in many ways underappreciated, is a talent of that stratosphere in jazz. Looking to the Duke Pearson ballad, “You Know I Care,” the master tenorist passes through the bones of the tune in melancholic, rich tones. Clark offers a lovely, articulate solo, playing through the delicate framework provided by Barshay and Clark. Ballads are the true test of melodic engagement in soloing,
Zilber’s beatific work on ballads in general speaks to his master status in modern jazz. Shifting to soprano, he plays in and through the melody of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” with Clark’s spacious, musical cymbal and drum work. The piece features intuitive rhythmic dynamics which separate the piece from its traditional framing.
Zilber and Clark in turn have a musical and social dynamic which asks for more down the road. These are two names that can unjustly fly under the radar in the world of modern jazz. Both have the innate ability to elevate a piece of music into something welcoming and special. Mike Drop is a worthy vehicle to introduce you to both.
Paul Rauch/All About Jazz September 3, 2021