Rachel Z
(Tone Center)

Jazz pianist puts her own spin
on a range of rock favorites

Rachel Nicolazzo is one of those jazz musicians who makes a conscious attempt to break through genres in search of a wider audience. On this, her latest solo album, the pianist continues to work within the concepts of earlier albums that were tributes to sax great Wayne Shorter and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell by giving her own spin on a range of rock favorites.

Going by her music moniker of Rachel Z, Nicolazzo has found perfect sympathetic partners-in-music in bassist Tony Levin and drummer-percussionist Bobbie Rae on this surprisingly pleasant album. She and Levin, in particular, have made their names by playing with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, respectively, so it's appropriate that on this covers-heavy CD, they delve into songs made famous from such progressive-minded acts.

The acoustic-based trio give a solid instrumental account to Gabriel's "Red Rain" (an intimate reading compared to the sweeping dramatics of the original) and provide a steady pulse to the yearning "One Time."

The three of them also take on songs by the Beatles, Seal, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, Soundgarden, Sting, Steely Dan, Smashing Pumpkins and Sade -- all with varying degress of success, but still notable. The best of the bunch include just a hint of the original melody to make it recognizable, rethinking familiar songs like "Here Comes the Sun," "Ring of Fire" (the most radically remade of the group, with Cash's melody nakedly stated only at the end), and offering swinging renditions of "Black Hole Sun" and "Tonight Tonight," with drummer Rae is particularly fine form on the former.

The group opts for imaginative and gently stated play throughout the album, occasionally interspersed with improvisational interludes, making it perfect for either attentive-listening or background music. The covers of "Kiss from a Rose" and "Kid Charlemagne" hew close to the spirit of the originals and, speaking of originals, the one lone one is Rae's "Mortal." Reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's more intimate work, the textural interplay between the three here is especially rewarding.

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