Renowned jazz drummer Mike Clark and acclaimed saxophonist Michael Zilber have a decade-long musical relationship in the Bay Area. Although Clark spends more time now in New York, the two had such an inspiring week of performances in the Bay Area in 2018 that they decided to make a recording. Joining them to form a quartet for Mike Drop are Bay Area first call bassist Peter Barshay and pianist Matt Clark. The album features some tunes drawn from those 2018 performances, two Zilber originals: “Barshay’s Fly,” a tribute to the bassist and “Sonny Monk (If I Were A)” which is an homage to Sonny Rollins’ famous solo on “Tune Up” with some added Monk flourishes. Additionally, there are two from Zilber’s ongoing project “John and Paul Reimagined” – “Blackbird” and “Norwegian Wood.”
Mike Clark, who first came to fame as the drummer for Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, is now found mostly in hard bop settings like this one. Clark has been busy in recent years as this writer has covered him as a leader on Indigo Blue: Live at the Iridium and as a sideman for Eddie Henderson’s Shuffle and Deal, Leon Dorsey’s trio tribute to Harold Mabern, Thank You, Mr. Maybern, and with pianist Michael Wolff, Live at Vitellos (covered on these pages last March). Although Zilber has led or co-led more than a dozen highly praised recordings and has resume of playing with many elite players, he is relatively new to this writer. He can swing with the best of them and is regarded by many as one of top contemporary saxophonists, heard here on both tenor and soprano.
This recording pulsates with a palpable energy that stems from the union of the two co-leaders in “Sonny’s Monk” which has potent solos from all. They sustain the fire through “Barshay Fly” with Zilber soaring above the rhythm section’s throbbing undercurrent. They next turn to McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” with Clark’s opening drum solo morphing into a funky beat and combustible solos from all. Clark’s interplay with pianist Clark especially impresses here. We get the requisite ballad four tracks in, with Zilber’s warm tenor summoning deep blues and the band showing they can play with restraint on Duke Pearson’s “You Know I Care.”
The two Beatles tunes follows with Zilber on soprano for “Blackbird,” delivering a harmonica and rhythmic variation to the original, making way for a Matt Clark shimmering piano solo before Zilber rejoins the theme in his extended solo. The briskly swinging “Norwegian Wood” has Zilber (again on soprano) taking the melody in six different keys; an effect Michael Brecker called “Zilberization.” Next is a Wayne Shorter ballad that has shown up on several recordings from other artists recently, his ode to his wife, “Mikayo,” which features Clark’s deft cymbal work and Zilber’s deep low register tenor statements.
“Monk’s Dream,” arranged and performed expertly by Barshay, proves to be mostly a vehicle for the rhythm section with both Clarks weighing in as well as Zilber again takes to the soprano for his lively solo. They go out with a blistering version of the Rodgers and Hart standard “Falling in Love with Love,” a fitting finale to this totally acoustic burning date which does a great job of both adhering to tradition and staying contemporary.
- Jim Hynes
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