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17 mai 2007

Rachel Z, fresh from Peter Gabriel tour, leads a trio

Music Preview: Rachel Z, fresh from Peter Gabriel tour, leads a trio

Back in 1999, Rachel Z was a relative unknown when she performed with her eight-piece band at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center as part of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. Since then, she has forged a career as a teacher, developed music for her various-sized groups and spent the past three years as the keyboardist for the innovative rocker Peter Gabriel.

"Working with Peter was incredible," said Z, speaking aboard a train en route to Philadelphia from New York. "He's a creative force and it was incredibly fun to work with him." With Gabriel, Z performed before crowds as large as 30,000. Another time the group traveled to South Africa for a benefit honoring former President Nelson Mandela. "Oprah was there and we had dinner with Mandela," she continued. "We performed a song called 'Biko' that Peter had written for Stephen Biko. It was awesome."

Now, the primary focus is her trio, which she'll feature Saturday night at Gullifty's. Showcasing music from her latest release, "Dept. of Good and Evil," the concert will also feature bassist Maeve Royce and drummer Bobbie Rae. "We are really excited about this project," said Z. "We have been developing this concept that mixes rock and pop with jazz." Z has been bridging genres for some time, and "Dept. of Good and Evil" continues along that path.

In addition to some vibrant piano playing, the recording is filled with wonderfully orchestrated and eclectic arrangements, and Z has Rae to thank for that. "Bobbie Rae is the visionary," said Z. "He can pick out some of the hippest stuff out there."

The album opens with a breezy "Soul Meets Body" before giving way to a harmonically rich "Milky Way." A nod to Sting's "King of Pain" is followed by Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," which finds the pianist referencing some of her influences, musicians like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and the late Kenny Kirkland.

"I always have to tip my hat to McCoy, Chick Corea and people like Kenny because they were a major influence on me," said Z. The recording also reexamines Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," and Wayne Shorter's "ESP" is a tour de force. "I'm really into developing my trio," said Z. "I told Peter that I am through with sideman gigs, and he announced my new CD on his Web site. I want this trio to be a force, and we want to introduce this music to a young audience."

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