Rachel Z – On The Milky Way Express: The Music of Wayne Shorter

Rachel Z Rachel Z
On The Milky Way Express: The Music of Wayne Shorter
(Tone Center – 2000)
by John Barrett

Best known for her synthesizer, Rachel Z leads a piano trio as she gives Wayne’s works a second look. (She arranged High Life, his Grammy-winning disc from 1995.) Very quiet, very understated – she wins you over by the force of sheer excellence.

Starting with a soft vamp, “Pinocchio” appears quizzical, hopping between romance and worry. She holds notes for poignance, then starts racing; this works on “Fall”, a tune of many colors. Miriam Sullivan has a deep woody bass, adding force where Rachel purrs. Her walk is vital to “Footprints”, a steady presence as the piano wanders. Her chords get stronger, rain in dizzying fashion, and then recede into calm. It reminds me of snowfall: movement, in apparent stillness. And it is very moving.

“Dolores” has a stripped-down sound, and it takes a while to figure out why: Rachel plays the whole thing with just her right hand! Miriam is bouncy and deep; Allison Miller answers with slick cymbals. “Black Nile” is full of swirling eddies; Rachel churns fast, and Miller has a bunch of breaks, each shorter than the last. “Black Swan”, a track from High Life, is Rachel’s showcase. Alone, the echoes sweep over the notes like the lonely tide – a great version of a great composition. Miriam is tough on “Witch Hunt” (forceful walk, haunting bow) and gentle chords course through “The Milky Way Express” – a light thing suitable for cruising. As Rachel says” “This song truly takes us to heaven.” Me too.