AXS Contributor, JUN 30th, 2016 by Carol Banks Weber

Marc Copland’s ‘Zenith’ frees jazz with intentional feeling

From the first note of Marc Copland’s “Sun At The Zenith,” it’s clear this is no ordinary jazz quartet replicating standards. There is one exceptional standard by Duke Ellington covered by the pianist with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, drummer Joey Baron, and double-bassist Drew Gress. Yet, every one of the six compositions sounds fresh, new, and infinitely deep.

Perhaps it’s the quality of tone on Alessi’s trumpet, as he makes it speak, and occasionally wail to the near-breaking point, in his conversational solo at the top of the hour on the first track. Or how about the way Gress floats his bass just slightly above Copland’s barely-there melodic R&B train of thought in the next tune, “Mystery Song,” both on the verge of breaking away into a full abstract condensation.

When Alessi and Copland merge their trumpet and piano on the same wavering wavelength before an awesome piano then trumpet solo takes hold, Ellington’s “Mystery Song” becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

In the improvised quartet piece, “Air We’ve Never Breathed,” there’s a lot of hurry up and wait going on in the cadence, the dynamics, and the interplay. Copland holds the improvisational piece together, providing the safety net of his prodding, stable time cues, so Alessi can explore the higher reaches of interpretation.

Zenith is Copland’s inaugural March release on his new record label, InnerVoice Jazz. His quartet is made up of his longtime bassist and drummer, and the final addition of trumpeter Alessi taking over a lot of the catchy narrative throughout this six-track romp.

If Copland’s group sounds deeper, better than the average straight-ahead jazz quartet, it’s intentional. That’s been the pianist’s goal, to combine access with a new touch. In a June 2016 DownBeat interview with Bill Milkowski, Copland explained his mantra: “The access is pretty much there most of the time, but the test is are you getting into new territory. If you’re playing a little bit differently than you did a year or two ago, then something good is happening. You’re trying to develop what you’re doing and expand the places that the music can go, which involves expanding the capabilities of the musical tools, in part.”

Each one of the musicians in Copland’s quartet goes the extra mile to extract deeper meaning than a 4/4 send-off. “It helps when everybody listens first, and that certainly happens in the bands I’m spending most of my time with now, which is the Zenith band, Gary Peacock’s trio and John Abercrombie’s quartet. That’s a common feature among all those groups. As musicians we want to leave space. That’s a sound that’s been inside my head from the very beginning. At any recording or gig I play, I try to establish that sound and use of space, and listening is the first step with that. And if everybody isn’t doing that, it can’t happen,” Copland continued in the interview. “But if everybody’s listening and responding to each other and to the sonic environment, then with the piano one can set the musical stage so that harmony and melody and rhythm can interact among the players in a certain way. And when that happens, then it’s very easy to start to go beyond the notes.”

Marc Copland’s Zenith goes beyond straight-ahead jazz and rides the entry to abstract free jazz with a purpose: to provide measured tones, textures, and depth of feeling with every sound byte.

Apr 21 2023

Someday – Space, elegance and heartiness are all at the forefront

The stupendous sound of American pianist Marc Copland is only matched by his immense creativity and originality. For this quartet session, recorded for his own label, the pianist teams up with bassist Drew Gress, a longtime partner in many musical voyages, and two new additions: Belgian-American saxophonist Robin Verheyen and ...
Read More

Mar 23 2023


Si potrebbe dire che Marc Copland sia un artista dalla doppia vita. Partito come sassofonista con ottime collaborazioni in qualità di sideman, tra cui Chico Hamilton, Cameron Brown e Jeff Williams e John Abercrombie. Insoddisfatto dei limiti armonici del suo strumento, a metà degli ’70 anni, il giovane Copland lascia ...
Read More

Feb 27 2023

“One of today’s great pianists….Fresh, powerful, sensitive: this is without doubt one of the best quartet recordings in recent memory.”

Marc Copland, at 74 years old, has nothing more to prove. He’s played with the greatest, recorded superb discs and is recognized as one of today’s great pianists. He can play music free of any constraints, and choose his preferred partners. His old friend Drew Gress is on bass here, ...
Read More

Feb 9 2023

“A dream musical partnership, and as always with Marc Copland: exciting!” Jazz Thing

Next stop for the restless adventurer Marc Copland: after his interlude with violinist Mark Feldman, the pianist is back with saxophonists, with whom he has a soulmate-like connection--because that was his original instrument. The first was the Frenchman Jean-Charles Richard (L'etoffe des Reves, La Buisonne) and now it’s the Belgian ...
Read More

Dec 9 2022

Music is magic in this group’s hands, and Marc Copland is the master magician – AllaboutJazz

Marc Copland is a former saxophonist who found his instrument artistically confining for the purposes of expressing his vision. So he called on his childhood piano training (synaptic memories intact) to make the switch to the keyboard. The results have been magic. His artistry with the 88s is second only ...
Read More

Dec 1 2022

Interview The New York City Jazz Record

Marc Copland has been creating vital music for more than 40 years and the pianist is arguably at the very top of his game. He is most well known for his long associations with bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist John Abercrombie, issuing several game-changing albums on ECM. Copland is a ...
Read More