My first impression of Zen Zadravec‘s piano, processed when I first received Human Revolution a few weeks ago, is nearly the same right now. Zadravec, born in Winnipeg, has assembled a bright and energetic quintet, heavy on horns, maybe with a vocalist on one or two cuts, and he still plays as their equal. That’s right, five on one. He’s not pounding the keys so loudly that no one else on stage can think. He’s the gas. He makes the whole thing go, and once they get going he makes them go fast.
Human Revolution isn’t designed, however, as a getaway car. Zen Zadravec views these tracks, mostly originals, as based upon the philosophies of Nichiren Buddhism. The liner notes mention that he “strives to create music that inspires, encourages and touches people’s hearts.” There’s nobility in that, but it doesn’t come at the cost of fun, a relaxed and jumpin’ vibe that helps you to forget the world instead of re-imagining it–even during the group’s softer ballads.
These two themes, delivered by a propulsive style on the keyboards and perhaps by some Zen-like appreciation for the pace and tempo, is what makes this album so fascinating. But it’s unfair not to mention Zen Zedravec’s crew, who provide that all-important balance. Much of that opposing energy is provided by drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. (remember, I promised this week was going to be about great percussion), who flies right next to Zadravec during the most raucous moments. Dylan Bell supplies the dreamy, wordless vocals, Kenny Davis and Mike Pope share bass duties, and there’s that killer horn section consisting of sax player Todd Bashore and trumpeters Derrick Gardner and John Douglas.
There’s so much going on in Human Revolution that you might not even gravitate toward Zen Zadravec’s piano on your first listen. But if you identify the rhythmic foundations of these arrangements, that piano will shoot right to the front of the stage. This is one of those jazz albums that colors within the lines, but with hues you’ve never seen before. It’s also an album that introduces me to another original contemporary jazz pianist.