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Rachel Z: Everlasting

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Rachel Z’s new album, Everlasting, will dismay every jazz purist who hears it. Looking at the track listing, you might think that the cause of this disquiet would be her choice of songs, from artists like Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones and the Smashing Pumpkins. But despite their nonsongbook origins, all the songs here offer numerous possibilities for dedicated jazzers; pianist Z, along with trio mates Bobbie Rae (drums) and Tony Levin (bass), should be able to use these raw materials to swing some tempi, explore some harmonies or simply rock out-but she often fails to do any of that.

McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock have obviously strongly influenced Z’s takes on these songs; those keyboard giants, however, had a lot more moves than she does. On this album, Z uses the middle octaves of the keyboard almost exclusively; she also stays planted in a narrow dynamic range, with occasional excursions into quietude for ballads and when she wants a showy start or finish. Her improvisations mostly either replay the melody with minor alterations or push its tempo and take it to places Tyner and Hancock have, for the most part, already shown us. In other words, Z’s interpretations of these diverse songs sound superficially “jazzy” but take far fewer risks than any of the originals.

Rae and Levin contribute most of the excitement here, with Levin contributing some particularly memorable melodic work both with and without bow. But for the most part, Everlasting lacks the adventurousness of either jazz or rock. Both genres deserve better.