Cerebral and uncompromising, the noted psychiatrist-pianist Denny Zeitlin used the material on his new MaxJazz disc “Slickrock” to fill the bulk of his 70-minute opening set at the Jazz Bakery. Most of the time was spent in dialogue with bassist Buster Williams as Matt Wilson providing a swinging rhythm. A spectacular finale allowed Wilson to explode in cahoots with his bandmates; they went wild — without being playful — and maintained an elevated level of communion.
Zeitlin has recorded sporadically over the course of 40 years, and his current trio, which made “Slickrock” with him, may well understand his compositional and improvisational techniques best.
He enjoys mood setters and Rachmaninoff-like runs, dramatic chordings and rests that either abruptly break up a piece or ease his way into another figure. Williams complements Zeitlin with fat, rounded notes drawn out by sliding on a bass string from one root note to the next, again leaving gaps of silence for Zeitlin to counter with a dramatic phrase.
The trio reached back in the song bag for a few oldies: Wayne Shorter’s “ESP,” which Zeitlin filled with surprise passages and forceful energy, and his own “Quiet Now,” a gorgeously lyrical tune that Bill Evans performed regularly during the last 15 years of his life.
Zeitlin closed with a four-movement piece inspired by a mountain biking experience in Utah that evoked thoughts of daybreak, danger and determination; for a good 15 minutes, Zeitlin and company visited a career’s worth of musical colors.