Rachel Z

Everlasting

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On 1998's Love Is the Power, her only specifically smooth jazz outing, the versatile pianist did one of the genre's best ever (and vastly underappreciated) pop covers of Alanis Morissette's "Head Over Feet." Then, on 2002's Moon at the Window, she mined the melodic riches of Joni Mitchell's catalog. So it's not surprising that Z would put so much dedication, grace, and spunky energy into creating jazzy reworkings of other classic pop and rock tunes. Driven along by the tight rhythms of bassist Tony Levin and drummer Bobbie Rae, Z alternates between light and happy twists that put the familiar melody up front ("Here Comes the Sun," "Kiss from a Rose") and darker, melancholy meditations of more obscure chestnuts like the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." Her dives into early alternative rock, tackling Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" and the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight," don't quite pack the drama of Herbie Hancock's take on Nirvana via The New Standard, but they're still fun. She starts the first in a grim, noodly mood, creating a grungy atmosphere before, well, finding the sun and hopping and skipping over a swinging rhythm section. The Pumpkins are given heavy chords to start with before she settles into a more gentle spirit. Other tracks like "Ring of Fire" find her roaming off the melody completely, all but creating her own songs. She is both optimistic and gloomy on her two originals with Rae, having much more fun on "Interlude." Z's plan seems to be to make jazz palatable to younger audiences. She may be a little too artsy to fully achieve that, but that simply makes the effort more appealing to the more discerning jazz buff.

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