Peter Zak

The Decider

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Peter Zak's earlier outings for Steeplechase have been either trio or solo sessions, but he expands to a quartet for this 2008 meeting by adding veteran tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, with bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Billy Drummond rounding out the band. Several of the pieces are originals by the pianist, starting off with "The Decider" (an accidental nickname that former President gave himself in response to criticism of his then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2006). Unlike the frequent verbal stumbles of Bush, Zak's "The Decider" is fault-free, a breezy, midtempo bop vehicle built around a simple riff. Zak's lyrical side comes across in his ballad "Aurora," with Weiskopf adding his mellow soprano sax. The standards also shine in Zak's hands. "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" is typically associated with jazz vocalists like Anita O'Day, Johnny Hartman, Eden Atwood, and Jane Monheit. But Zak's low-key arrangement works just as well as an instrumental, with Weiskopf adding a powerful John Coltrane-infused tenor solo. The pianist's turbulent rendition of Cole Porter's is set up with a turbulent disguised introduction, with the leader keeping the tension intact with his adventurous voicings backing Weiskopf's percolating tenor. Works by jazz greats are also represented. Duke Pearson's "Ready, Rudy?" is a snappy blues that sounds like it was written to be a set closer, though it is programmed in the middle of this studio date. Cedar Walton's "Mode for Joe" sizzles with Zak's restrained approach, which focuses more on his intricate piano than on the tenor sax. This is another rewarding release by Peter Zak, a talent deserving of wider recognition.

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