Arriving on the jazz scene in the mid-’60s while simultaneously practicing and teaching psychiatry, pianist Denny Zeitlin has consistently conducted his musical career on multiple tracks. He has played postbop as well as free improv, veered between electric and acoustic settings, drawn from classical composition and fusion, and played solo when he wasn’t leading duos, trios, or larges ensembles.
All those influences resonate through the music heard on Remembering Miles. The disc, featuring 13 tracks written by, credited to, and/or associated with Miles Davis, captures Zeitlin’s 2016 solo-piano performance at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland. There, for the last five years, he’s annually played residencies saluting individual composers: Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn, George Gershwin.
The program includes tunes from several Miles phases, including a surprising reworking of “Time After Time,” the Cyndi Lauper hit that was an emotional highlight of the trumpeter’s mid-’80s performances—here, pulsating bass notes underpin an upended melody and a reharmonized chord structure. Also from the same era, “Tomaas” (co-written with Marcus Miller) is reborn as a halting, impressionistic oddity.
Opener “Solar,” its melody sneaking out almost unrecognizably as Zeitlin’s left hand thunders down below, is a highlight, as are a swinging, melancholy “Dear Old Stockholm” and an expansive “Flamenco Sketches.” The pianist offers two consecutive approaches to the revered “Milestones”—“1958 version” is modal and hypnotic, while “1947 version” is all bebop energy. And closer “Weirdo” is a hopping blues with a streak of Monk-ish playfulness. It all adds up to an intriguing collection of Miles’ musical stories, familiar but given refreshing new spins.