Drummer Eliot Zigmund is the leader on Breeze, but you’d never know it. Zigmund has the most compositions, and is a prominent and masterful swinger, yet each contributor (saxophonist Mike Lee, pianist Gary Versace and bassist Phil Palombi) is so crucial that to suggest anyone’s dominance is folly.
Palombi, for example, is the most engaging soloist, adding a layer of intellect to Versace’s melancholy ballad “Homeland” and helming his own enigmatic “For Scott” with a stunning, idiosyncratic performance. Lee is the best composer; the opening “School Night” evokes the hard-bop ’50s, while his sensitive waltz “Mathew, in Three” is structurally immaculate, harmonically sumptuous and simply the most memorable tune on the album. Versace shares with Lee the title of most distinctive stylist, but the former’s subtlety, equal parts John Lewis and Bill Evans with perhaps a touch of Sicilian piano, brings a light-fingered panache to Breeze.
Not one of them, however, can do what they all do together. It’s the quartet’s chemistry that recasts Harry Warren’s standard “I Wish I Knew” with thoughtfulness and a challenging structure, but still retains its Gershwin-esque jaunt. Likewise, there’s no separating Zigmund’s understated drive from Versace and Palombi’s sparse touches or Lee’s wispy soprano line in characterizing the dreamy, bossa-nova title track. Unfortunately Zigmund no longer uses this lineup: Breeze was recorded in 2003. That their meeting of minds has brought us this one brief legacy, though, is splendid.