For longtime collaborators Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh much of their enthusiasm for music lies in exploration of new terrain. Their recording Expedition finds them continuing their journey into the worlds of sound and spontaneous composition.
Pianist Denny Zeitlin has long been in the vanguard of musical innovation. His 1960s acoustic trio was one of the first to advance beyond the concepts of Bill Evans, and his genre defying electro-acoustic experiments were some of the most intriguing from a jazz musician.
Zeitlin always wanted to develop his ability to be more expansive with his sound. As a child, the pianist dreamed of being able to control an orchestra with a single device. Zeitlin was obviously ready for the advances in synthesized sounds that developed, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, which put an orchestra at his fingertips. He quickly adopted synthesizers and sound design into his musical language, creating classic records like Expansion and the soundtrack to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Innovative percussionist George Marsh was there through all of these electro-acoustic professional musical excursions, offering a sympathetic and advanced sense of what percussion could add in these widely varying situations. His egoless approach makes him a perfect partner for Zeitlin, as everything they do together serves the music.
During the past four years, Zeitlin and Marsh’s collaboration has been reenergized. Meeting regularly at Zeitlin’s home studio, the two have explored new topographies in collaborative music making. They both see their meetings as a privilege, as there are no pressures of time, finance or extraneous purpose to impede their enthusiastic music making.
Zeitlin's studio, with its array of keyboards, synthesizers, grand piano, pedals, outboard gear, computers, and monitors, evokes images of Mission Control at NASA.
Setting up to preserve track separation while recording, Zeitlin and Marsh are unable to see each other, and depend upon a rapport that seems telepathic. They have focused on free improvisation—spontaneous compositions that arise with no preconception. With their shared vision, the music is allowed to bloom on its own accord; there is a fluidity within the sound as harmonic and rhythmic textures weave themselves in and out. Times signatures often do not apply, as many of the pieces find the collaborators switching and blending continually.
The initial presentation of some of the fruits of their labor was the critically acclaimed Riding The Moment (Sunnyside, 2015.)
Two years later, their follow-up recording, Expedition, shows just how profound their relationship has become. The music demonstrates the very feeling of delight that the musicians take in the freedom they have in conjuring their music.
The music presented is inspired and stylistically varied. There are atmospheric pieces, like “Geysers” and the quietly surging “The Hunt,” and ballad-like ruminations, like the ambient “Thorns of Life” and “Spiral Nebula.” The pulsating uptempo tracks are rhythmically fascinating, like the skittery percussion highlight “Shooting The Rapids” and the driving “Sentinel.” The triumphant “Expedition” is a perfect example of the duo’s goal of creating a succinct composition with direction and arc, all spontaneously in the moment.
Zeitlin and Marsh's forward-thinking collaboration spans 50 years. Their connection has only gotten stronger as they have invested themselves in expanding their vocabularies in electric-acoustic and improvised music. Expedition brilliantly displays what two highly attuned and flexible musicians can create on the fly.