Dept. of Good and Evil feat. Rachel Z
Many current young jazz players dabble in alt-rock. But Rachel Z lives there, in the free-fire zone of cognitive dissonance between the intellectual challenges of jazz and the instant animal gratifications of pop culture. Her new album is an acoustic jazz piano-trio date with a Goth sensibility.
Who but Z—or maybe Mehldau or the Bad Plus—would cover songs from Death Cab for Cutie (“Soul Meets Body”), The Church (“Milky Way”) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“Maps”)? Like her former bosses Najee and Peter Gabriel, she understands showmanship. She transforms these songs, and blows over their reharmonized changes, but she also provides catchy hooks and vamps and refrains to keep her jazz user-friendly.
Yet her chops are genuine. On “Inner Urge” she smokes Joe Henderson’s tricky crooked line. On “E.S.P.” she ignores the ambiguity in the perfect fourth interval of Wayne Shorter’s melody, and just nails it. “Ain’t No Sunshine” is also hip, lightly glancing off the camouflaged melody, allowing guest Erik Naslund to float disassociated trumpet lines over the top of it.
Z is more clever than innovative, and she relies on favorite runs and licks. But when she burns for eight minutes on “Soul Meets Body,” it is exhilarating. If she sucks some Gen-Y types into jazz with it, what’s not to like?