Image © Savoy Jazz 2007
Image © Savoy Jazz 2007
(08 Febrary 2007) The fabulous jazz impresario Rachel Z hits the mark with her new album by the Department of Good and Evil being released mid-March. This twelve track CD features three original songs, two standards and seven goth and pop rock covers that are innovative and exciting. The modern jazz tunes on Department of Good and Evil
featuring Rachel Z (Savoy Records (USA), 2007) blend pop and rock with an inventive approach. Rachel's piano
virtuosity is certainly outstanding and passionate.
The Department's objective is to merge musical styles, gaining unity and breaking down barriers in the jazz genre. The band wanted to achieve excitement, edge and vibe to this new direction for modern jazz. "The Department of Good and Evil is about duality -- the music is fun, but it's serious. We're political, sarcastic and fully against the processed cheesefood some music is. Here at the Department, we earn our stripes one gig at a time. We fight for freedom of expression; we are fearless and spontaneous. We're into improv-kickin ass and we're taking names. We believe in people's inherent desire for quality. They should be inspired by the source, as we are. And so we share it, without compromise," according to Rachel.
The band members are Rachel Z on piano and vocals, Bobby Rae on drums, production and arrangements, Maeve Royce on acoustic bass, Tony Levin on electric bass and
Chapman stick, and Eric Naslund on trumpet. Rachel says, "On the CD, I played an Italian handmade Fazioli grand piano; Bobby Rae produced it, Allen Farmello was the
engineer. Look for the outtakes on an iTunes Ep in the fall. Bonus tracks will be available on the iTunes version of the CD including "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd. We'll be on tour in the spring and summer and should be in your neighorhood
soon." The influences behind Rachel's music includes Deathcab for Cutie, Cure, Chili Peppers, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Kate Bush, Elvin Jones,
Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, Nirvana, Peter Gabriel and of course, opera.
Rachel Z has played with the likes of Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke and Mike Mainieri. She prepared the arrangements and played on Wayne Shorter's Grammy winning Highlife album as well as doing five world tours and two DVDs as a member of Peter Gabriel's band. Her time with each of these masters provided distinct musical depth to the Department of Good and Evil's musical agenda. She recorded eight solo albums for Sony and GRP and the
Department project is her first CD with Savoy Records.
This Manhattan native began voice lessons at age two, commenced classical piano lessons at age seven and attended the opera by age nine. "My first dollhouse was a
Metropolitan Opera House complete with the stage and dolls which were the performers," she recalls. "Then I heard Miles Smiles when I was 15, started rebelling against the classical by improvising, and played with a band that covered Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan songs."
In order to bridge the gap from her classical roots to jazz, she listened to Herbie Hancock's harmonies over Wayne Shorter's compositions. She created a quintet called Nardis and studied with Joanne Brackeen and Richie Beirach. Her talents were rewarded upon graduation from the New England Conservatory with a 'Distinction in Performance' award. While in Boston, she worked professionally with performers like Bob Moses, Miroslav Vitous and George Garzone. In 1988, Rachel returned to New York and toured with her schoolmate Najee who became a rhythm and jazz superstar saxman and they co-wrote the album Tokyo Blue. From 1988 through 1996, Rachel performed and recorded with
the classic fusion band Steps Ahead. She continued her vast number of associations with jazz greats and developed a rapport with producer/vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. He ended up producing her debut album, Trust the Universe in 1993.
Having been greatly influenced by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, she collaborated on his hit album High Life and she created a "synthesized orchestral framework" in order to achieve his musical objectives. The tour for the CD had Rachel as musical director in addition to playing acoustic piano on the album. The CD won a Grammy for Best
Contemporary Jazz Album. She later released A Room of One's Own in 1996 and in 1998 did Love is the Power. Rachel returned to acoustic music in 2000 with
her tribute to Wayne Shorter with the album On the Milky Way Express. Her current CD draws upon heavy jazz versions of goth and rock songs. Rachel says the
Department of Good and Evil's music is about "merging musical styles. We want to respect and expand the swing of Elvin, Miles, Gabriel, Joy Division, to name just a few. We want to desegregate music. Some purists don't want modern influences in jazz, but we are where music actually is.
The Department's current CD opens with "Soul Meets Body" from Deathcab for Cutie. Jazz officienados will delight in the marvelous interpretitive style exhibited throughout. The
Church's hit, "Under the Milky Way," blends mellow percussion with Rachel's expert piano flourishes. The musical draw is hypnotic. Sting's poetic song, "King of Pain," from The Police's album Every Breath You Take is breathtaking. Erik Naslund's sexy trumpeting adds to the luscious rendering presented here with trumpet and piano
playing off one another.
"Lakme" from the famed opera takes on new life with its heightened and passionate approach. It's amazing what imaginative reworking can do for a classic. I believe
that Delibes would delight in jiving to the new grooves. Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" takes on new life with the Department's added reharmonies and edginess to this song.
"Moon and Sun" is the first of the three original tracks on this CD. Rachel lends her soothing vocals to this emotive piece. The velvet tones and electrifying piano make this song a standout.
"Maps" from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was one of their hit singles that received much airplay at the time of its release. The Department cranks it up several notches and places their
own poignant individuality on this tune. Numerous covers have been done on the next track, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," by Joy Division. In fact, this song was one of the most covered, and copied, songs of the 1980s. The Department beautifully captured the atmospheric sounds as well as the dreamy aspects of this famed song. Wayne Shorter's
"ESP" is dynamically reinterpreted by the Department and captures the rhythmic freedom so readily. The song is brilliantly executed and and springs forth with unbridled
Another original release, "Walking On Water" exploits wonderful modern harmony ideas along with Rachel's sultry vocals. Breathtaking jazz piano highlights this piece. Bill
Withers' bona fide classic, "Ain't No Sunshine," respects the sinuous, sexy grooves of this 70's ballad. There is an elegance to this rendition that communicates an updated,
exciting reformation of the original. The final track is the original "Saint of New Orleans." Tender openings evolve into an enchanting, highly creative and captivating tour de force. This work is a magnificent closer to a top notch album that is a
The Department of Good and Evil featuring Rachel Z is a terrific jazz album that pioneers new territory in modern jazz. The interpretive and creative style lends to a
cleverness and fervent originality in the music. The music
titallates the senses and one can only marvel at the intensity of the genius behind the experience.--Audrey Elliot in New York