John and Paul Reimagined

Very happy and grateful for Andrew Gilbert’s piece on my newest project. Andy captures it better than I could!

All About Jazz Review of Originals – “Zilber is one of the true masters of modern jazz saxophone, his prodigious talents evidenced by his recordings and live performances are truth. Originals For the Originals is a top 10 of 2017 candidate without a doubt, and a must listen for any jazz fan that pays homage to the masters of the past, and moves ever forward with the inspired works of the present.”

Michael Zilber: Originals For The Originals



On his latest release on Origin Records, Originals For the Originals (Origin, 2017), his eleventh as a leader/co-leader, he offers an homage to seven titans of the saxophone which features a top-shelf New York rhythm section with pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist James Genus, and drummer Clarence Penn. “I knew Kikoski from New York and James Genus was the bassist in my band for the last three years there. I love the way they play. I really think Kikoski is one of the ten greatest living jazz piano players. I always wanted to do a record with him and I thought this material was ideal,” says Zilber. West Coast mates Matt Clark (piano), Peter Barshay (bass), and Akira Tana (drums) join for Zilber’s tribute to Joe Henderson, “Hen House.”

Summoning the spirits of transcendent masters such as John ColtraneMichael BreckerWayne ShorterSonny Rollins and Paul Desmond, Zilber takes a very personal approach to channel the essence of his relationships with their collective sound. Rather than trying to evoke the unmistakable sounds of these iconic players, he bases each piece on a melodic phrase or harmonic passage extracted from their music. “It’s an homage, but I’m not trying to be a copycat,” says Zilber.

The opening salvo “Breckerfast Club,” is an up-tempo rant featuring dynamic play from Zilber and Kikoski, both on the tedious head, and the following solos. Inspired by Michael Brecker”s playing on Chick Corea’s “Quartet #2.” Zilber demonstrates his very original, powerful sound on tenor. “Other than Wayne Shorter, no non- Coltrane tenor player had more influence on me,” says Zilber about Brecker, who he considers to have been the most influential of his generation.

On “Autumn Lieb,” Zilber switches over to soprano in reverence for NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman. Zilber reharmonized and reconstituted pieces of “Autumn Leaves,” and “Autumn in New York, two standards frequented by Liebman over the years. The lyrical melody alludes to a serene and peaceful side to Zilber’s composing and playing, connected in spirit with Liebman’s eloquent phrasing.

Remaining on soprano, “Weather Wayne” is an homage to Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report years in deep burn mode. Shorter is a true renaissance man in the jazz lineage, a bridge to true compositional global outreach, across sixty years. In the post Coltrane world, Shorter revolutionized the high register soprano with a probing multi cultural approach adopted hook, line, and sinker by Zilber. In the interest of allowing the listener some elasticity in their own interpretation, I will just say that this high energy piece will keep me coming back to this album for many years to come.

“Last Night Trane (In the Distance), is an emotive ballad written as an ode to Coltrane’s peaceful and deeply spiritual sound on the album Ballads (Impulse, 1963). ” My approach was simply to write a ballad that feels like what Trane might have played,” said Zilber. He starts the piece with the first two notes from “I Want to Talk About You ” from Coltrane’s early release, Soultrane (Prestige, 1958). Zilber summons beautiful, harmonic colors, and alludes to Coltrane’s sentimental side. His tone, and lush phrasing indeed bares his romantic side as well.

A lot of what makes Originals For the Originals so engaging is that Zilber possesses a striking sound all his own. His tenor sound is deep, dense, and elastic, rounded off by impeccable articulation, while from his probing intuitive sensibility on soprano emerges a softer, more reflective narrative.

While Zilber dedicates his compositions to seven titans of the instrument, this dedicated premise is not what draws me to this recording. If familiarity with historic players such as John Coltrane, or Sonny Rollins draws listeners to explore this album, then Zilber’s homage will have served the purpose of enlightening us to their dynamic talents. Put simply, Zilber is one of the true masters of modern jazz saxophone, and though an unknown anomaly to many, his prodigious talents evidenced by his recordings and live performances are truth. Originals For the Originals is a top 10 of 2017 candidate without a doubt, and a must listen for any jazz fan that pays homage to the masters of the past, and moves ever forward with the inspired works of the present.

Thanks to Scott Yanow for the truly excellent review!

Scott Yanow, one of the foremost Jazz Critics in the country, has written a very generous and thoughtful review of Originals for the Originals in The New York City Jazz Record October Issue.


Originals for the Originals

Michael Zilber (Origin)

by Scott Yanow

David Kikoski has been a major pianist since moving to New York in 1985 (and is) a sideman on saxophonist Michael Zilber’s Originals for the Originals, a tribute to seven of the leaders’s favorite saxophonists (Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Dave Liebman, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Paul Desmond) via wittily-titled originals hinting at their musical spirits.

It is an intriguing set, with Zilber sounding like some of his heroes and not like others. Uptempo “Breckerfast Club” and more somber “Leaves” pay homage to Brecker. The former is a raging piece with Kikoski tearing into the changes and Zilber contributing rapid lines that somehow also sound thoughtful. The sophisticated ballad “Leaves” is a bit mournful, reminding listeners of Brecker’s premature passing. “Partly Sonny” borrows part of its melody and calypso feel from Rollins’ “St. Thomas”, which Zilber cleverly disguises. On “Autumn Lieb” (hints of both “Autumn Leaves” and “Autumn In New York”) and passionate “Lieb Dich”, he switches to soprano and comes close to capturing the dedicatee’s adventurous style.

Zilber pays homage to Wayne Shorter on both soprano (explosive “Weather Wayne”) and tenor (laidback and melancholy “Pastel Blues”). Kikoski makes major statements on those two pieces, displaying his versatility. “Hen House” was actually written for Joe Henderson although Zilber sounds closer to Coltrane. The two Coltrane tributes are the wistful “Late Night Trane” and passionate “Coltraning Daze”. The latter, based loosely on a well-disguised “I Love You”, is taken quite fast on soprano and could actually pass for a Coltrane piece, complete with a saxophone/ drums duet for a few choruses. “Coltraning Daze” feels like a relative of “Countdown” or “Giant Steps” with its chord structure, but is given a unique treatment due to drummer Clarence Penn’s parade rhythms. The closing “St. Paul”, taken by Zilber on soprano, is the lengthiest piece. Even if Zilber’s playing does not conjure up Desmond, his lyricism would have been appreciated by the alto saxophonist.

There is much to discover throughout Originals for the Originals, both in the high-quality playing and the historical references, making it a CD well worth listening to closely.

For more information, visit and


Yup, I did it. Have put a toe gingerly in the Twitter waters. Fear not, no 3AM insanity from this end.  To keep it interesting, all of my contributions will be in the form of the classic 5-7-5 Haiku form.  To that end, if you are inclined to follow, my handle is @jazzhaikuz

Keep it intriguing

forget one hundred forty

I’ll tweet jazz haikus


On John Shifflett

With John, Jason Lewis and Peter Horvath at Yoshi’s Oakland

John Shifflett was unique – not pretty unique, very unique or really unique, but unique in the true meaning of the word.  He was my musical friend for over 20 years, and bizarrely enough, the first time we played, we were both on a big band rehearsal in Oakland, a couple of years after I moved out from New York. I say bizarrely, because John and I never played a big band gig or rehearsal together again, NOT ONCE, despite several hundred gigs, 6 CDs and a bunch of rehearsals and sessions. 

I played occasional gigs with John w Andre Bush, Paul Nagel and others, and by 1998, I knew he and his partner in crime Nagel were ideal choices to join a quartet I co-led with the great Steve Smith. John stayed with that group until Steve moved away 5 years later, including an amazing tour of Canada with Dave Liebman, playing Monterey and a CD documenting the group.  He also joined Nagel and Amendola on a live record that Liebman and I did at the jazzschool, joined me on several occasions in Vancouver for festival and club hits, played in the group Zilberella with Susan Muscarella, Tim Bulkley and me for 2 years, and, for the last 10, he and the other side of his musical heartbeat, Jason Lewis, were an indispensable part of the quartet I co-lead with guitar great John Stowell.  One of my fondest memories is the 10 summers we all did co-teaching the advanced summer intensive at the jazzschool, John, Jason, Peter Horvath and me always being there.  It was always the best and most fun week of teaching I did all year, thanks to John and the others.
So whether it was with Steve Smith and Nagel, Muscarella and Tim Bulkley, Liebman, Amendola, Stowell, and of course Jason, it really didn’t matter, John always brought more soul and swing and musicality and joy and solid choices to the proceedings than any of us had a right to expect.  He was a truly great musician, ALWAYS putting the music first, and while he had a deep and subtle understanding of harmony, melody and rhythm, the thing that he brought that every great musician I have ever heard or played with has is the CRY, that reaching down deep into the most vibrant part of the heart. Utterly without ego, but powerful and with conviction. That was John Shifflett.  Sometimes, when he was really digging a moment, he would even vocalize that cry behind you as you played. 
It was almost impossible to pick among the dozens of songs we recorded together, but the two I settled on are from the last CD we did together with John Stowell and Jason Lewis. The songs are 2 I wrote, Basement Blues and Stowell in Heart.  Basement Blues was written, in part, for John, one of the very few times I ever gave him a written bass line, because it reminded me of what he might have done. Stowell in Heart is on there because, while John was a reluctant soloist, he was a beautiful one, and this represents the kind of solo magic he could spin when he had the space.  There is not a musician on the planet who has been there for more of my happiest musical moments the past 20 or so years, and like all of you, I will miss his sound terribly much. So long, John, Michael Zilber

Sweet words from Dr. Brad Stone on my CD – “This is one of the premier releases of all time on Origin Records”

These words on Originals for the Originals from Brad Stone, the host of the Creative Source radio program, are among the kindest that have been said about the CD, and were originally in a personal email from Brad to me.  He enthusiastically said I should share them, so here they are.


You know, Mike, I love Origin Records.  I love what John is doing with the label, and program 98.7% of what he puts out.  His label has developed its own sound, kinda like ECM has done over the years.  It’s music that I personally would put on for enjoyment, not just for programming my show. I really dig a lot of the artists on the label.  So, this is all a prelude to what I’m about to say.  I think your record is one of the premier releases of all time on John’s label.  I think it’s going to go down as a historically important recording.  Your passion and love for those “originals” shines through in your playing on this one.
Dr. Brad Stone
Producer, Programmer and Host: “The Creative Source”
Featuring progressive jazz, fusion, new jazz releases, current artists, original compositions
JazzWeek Bobby Jackson Award Winner (Jazz Programmer of the Year),
Internet/Non-Terrestrial Radio, 2014 and 2015

“This release is a perfect marriage of head and heart.” Hobart Taylor KUCI 88.9FM

Hobart Taylor at KUCI 88.9FM in Irvine, CA has reviewed Originals for the Originals, and it is very positive.

Let’s start out by saying that these are incredible melodies. The compositions are deeply engaging and the ensemble beautifully supports Zilber’s intensely personal voice on tenor and soprano saxes. The tunes are homages to other jazz greats, Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Dave Liebman, John Coltrane, and Paul Desmond, but while they sometimes mirror the feel of these artists, they are not derivative. They are Zilber’s interpretations of the spirits of these artists. This release is a perfect marriage of head and heart.

Check it out over at

Wonderful review of Originals by Andrew Gilbert

Michael Zilber, an original saxophonist salutes originals

Andrew Gilbert, February 9/2017


Over the past 15 years or so the Albany saxophonist Michael Zilber has recorded a series of critically hailed collaborations, joining forces with an imposing array of master improvers like drum maestro Steve Smith, saxophone legend Dave Liebman, and the painterly guitar explorer John Stowell.

But Zilber’s latest album Originals for the Originals (Origin) is the kind of project that doesn’t accommodate a co-leader. A highly personal tribute to his saxophone heroes, the album summons the spirits of transcendent talents like John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond. Rather than trying to evoke the unmistakable sounds of these storied players, he bases each piece on a melodic phrase or harmonic passage drawn from their music.

Click here to read the rest!

Michael Zilber, an original saxophonist salutes originals

Mike Joyce says in Jazz Times: “truly an inspired musical alliance”



Following this West Coast ensemble’s two widely acclaimed recordings, Shot Through With Beauty and Live Beauty, Basement Blues may seem like a departure, in tone and tack. But as “Stowell in Heart” and other highlights here warmly illustrate, Basement Blues is similarly riddled with charms, to say nothing of its soulful allure and conversational postbop gambits.  Read the whole review here:
Continue reading “Mike Joyce says in Jazz Times: “truly an inspired musical alliance””