While recording Riding the Moment, Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh were not looking at one another. It’s not that they aren’t on speaking terms; it’s that they almost don’t really need to speak to one another. Jazz keyboardist Zeitlin and drummer Marsh go back so far together that they are fully comfortable creating 75 minutes of music on the spot without needing to give each other visual cues.
Starting in the late ‘60s, Denny Zeitlin began exploring the possibilities of keyboard jazz technology. Hey began accruing new toys, techniques, and allies in his electronic pursuits, one of which was George Marsh. After scoring music for Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Zeitlin took a break from digitally-enhanced music for a while. Around the turn of the century, Zeitlin began dabbling in the latest developments of keyboard electronics and gave his arsenal a major update. After using said technology to record Both/And all by himself, Zeitlin decided to challenge himself yet again by reaching out to his old friend Marsh, one that understood the risks and payoffs involved in thinking outside the acoustic box. So when you think about it, Riding the Moment‘s ability to impress is threefold. They music is entirely spontaneous, both men were on opposite sides of a studio wall, and Zeitlin had to navigate banks upon banks of keyboard sounds on the fly. The fact that Riding the Moment comes out sounding so self-assured and coherent is a nice touch. Of course, the music itself is very good too.
The music is “jazz”, in a loose sense. Zeitlin’s sounds can be hard bop one moment, smooth fusion the next, and possibly wind up in a marriage of fusion and musique concrète in no time at all (see “Vortex”). This diversity occurs without causing so much as a hiccup. Marsh isn’t out to provide the music with a defining beat so much as he’s searching for ways to fill out the sound. Through mallets, sticks, and the many angles of his kit, Marsh pulls a variety of sounds from the air without being a road hog. Each cymbal rush is like a secondary color for Zeitlin’s multi-faceted rainbow.
When it comes to artificial instruments, I don’t think there’s anything that Denny Zeitlin won’t try. There’s something very endearing about a jazz veteran giving so many sounds the old college try while not caring about how they might sound to most listeners. An artificial trumpet still sounds artificial, but their overal quality has improved over time. On “Wheels & Tracks”, Zeitlin bends the “horn” as if a real pair of lips were behind it. Buried in the rhythm track is an industrial noise that chugs at a rate not found in either jazz or electronic music.
Speaking of things that aren’t exactly jazz, roughly 30% of the album’s run time belongs to Riding the Moment‘s final two tracks, “Down the Rabbit Hole” and “Quest”. It’s in these 23 minutes where things become longer, more drawn out, and more adventurous. “Rabbit Hole” in particular owes more to the new age/ambient side of synthetic ivory. “Quest” sounds like its title—two guys on a journey for a genre for their music. The fact that they don’t come across a definitive one feels more satisfying though.
It goes without saying that Riding the Moment is an album unlike most, purely by structure. It’s also a fine way to get reacquainted with the telepathic power of music. If something this dense and rich can arise from sessions with no preconceived plan, what else is in store for us out there?
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