MAKING A SCENE
by Jim Hynes
Two weeks ago, we brought you the outstanding big band debut from trumpeter and Canadian resident Derrick Gardner’s Big dig! Band in which Zen Zadravec was the pianist. Now the Canadian pianist, saxophonist, and composer Zadravec and his quintet Human Revolution, of which Gardner is a key member, brings us an album of the same name. The album is already being hailed by the great jazz pianist and Zadravec mentor, Kenny Barron.
Zadravec is a musical chameleon. Whether it is jazz, R&B, funk, rock, or pop, he plays each with a freshness and confidence. Born in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1974, Zadravec studied classical piano from the age of five. At eleven, he began studying the saxophone and the flute. Listening to Miles Davis transformed his life and influenced his decision to become a jazz musician. In 1992, Zadravec attended York University’s Jazz Program, and in 1997 he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. During his time at York, Zadravec was also the recipient of two Oscar Peterson Awards for excellence as a jazz pianist. In 2000, he earned a Graduate’s Degree in Jazz Performance at Rutgers University. Zadravec also has studied with some of the biggest names in jazz, such as Kenny Barron, Don Thompson, John Gittens, Vic Juris, Ted Dunbar, and Ralph Bowen.
While Human Revolution is often pegged as a fusion group, this is a combustible acoustic album that finds Zadravec exclusively on piano with a formidable front line of trumpeter Derrick Gardner and saxophonist Todd Bashore on alto and soprano. They are joined by bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. John Douglas guests on trumpet in the opening track, and Mike Pope handles bass on two tracks. Special guest Dylan Bell sings on ‘Live!” and “Climb.” This work pushes all boundaries in Zadravec’s composing from the use of melody, harmony, rhythm, and even employing odd time signatures and the voice as a melodic device-vocalese.
“The Nature of All Things” was inspired by the music of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Henderson. It explores an extended compositional form with swing and Latin influences. The band comes out of the gate blasting with inspired solos from the leader, Bashore, and Douglas. “Mentor Disciple” is also musically influenced by Chick Corea circa, 1980s. It is a hard-hitting and intense composition featuring Mike Pope on bass in dialogue with the leader in this intricate piece. Conceptually, the title is based on a Buddhist principle called: Mentor Disciple Relationship. In any discipline in life, a person who guides the development of another may be regarded as a mentor. In Nichiren Buddhism, one is concerned with the happiness of others and their own personal development. Thus, the Mentor Disciple Relationship is fundamental. This relationship between mentor and disciple in Buddhism is the shared pledge to work together for the happiness of people and free them from suffering. Altruism.
“Live!” encompasses the idea of living life to the fullest with no regrets. Zadravec also explores the use of wordless vocals as a melodic device reminiscent of Bobby McFerrin and Pat Metheny. This composition is crafted in 7/4 time featuring a beautiful melody, tight ensemble work, spirited comping from the leader, and soaring turns from vocalist Bell and altoist Bashore.
“Climb,” which begins with just drummer Whitfield Jr. and the leader, is a profoundly swinging homage to the musical influences of Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, and Kenny Garrett, accordingly with passionate solos from Gardner and Bashore. “Jamiliah” represents a husband’s love for his wife and best friend and is a lyrical straight eighth composition performed beautifully by vocalist Dylan Bell, supported by the leader’s chording and punctuated by Bashore’s soprano. It will inevitably remind some of the beautiful work of Flora Purim with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever
“Soul Eyes,” a Mal Waldron ballad, illustrates the influence of Kenny Barron’s musical mentorship on Zadravec’s musical conception. This track showcases artistic performances from beautifully-toned Gardner, followed by Bashore on alto, and the leader, a true standout. “Lilies and Roses,” another ballad-like tune, delves into another side of Zadravec’s creative influences, Kenny Kirkland, and clearly highlights the leader’s nimble, articulate piano skills as Bashore takes flight on soprano while Zadravec comps, Pope simmers it down, and the ensemble rejoins for a lovely, peaceful outro.
“Human Revolution” according to Nichiren Buddhism, is the pursuit and process of bettering one’s self through chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, becoming stronger, wiser, shedding your lesser self, overcoming obstacles, becoming happy, and helping others to do the same. This gorgeous composition, with Bashore leading on animated soprano, takes chances melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically. One can hear the melody developing throughout the composition, much like a person growing on a personal level.
This is highly engaging music that attests to the compositional skill of Zanravec and his high caliber quintet in pure, acoustic jazz. Little did most of us know that Winnipeg, CA is the source of some great jazz this year, even within just the past two weeks.