Leigh Pilzer,
(independent, 2017)

Washington, D.C., musician Leigh Pilzer plays an imposing instrument, when compared to her stature. Standing next to her baritone saxophone, it comes up to her waist. It's a big, blustery, growling hunk of brass, and one might think she'd prefer a smaller, more manageable soprano or alto sax instead.

Pilzer went for the big one, though, and it paid off. She has won two jazzies, the Washington area Best in Jazz awards for her playing, and she is a member of several bands and orchestras, including the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra. With the National Symphony Orchestra, she toured overseas, and she has written and done arrangements for everyone from Go-Go musician Chuck Brown to Singer Eva Cassidy to Maurice Hines for his show Tappin Through Life.

Strunkin' is her first solo album, and from the first few notes it becomes apparent that she is a major Gerry Mulligan follower. Her intonation and her bouncy, lightly-swinging tunes bring to mind Mulligan's West Coast cool jazz days. She uses a trombone as the second horn on the CD, as Mulligan did when he hired Bob Brookmeyer to play valve trombone in his group. As far as instrumentation goes, the major difference is that she uses a piano, which Mulligan eschewed.

Her writing is first-rate. Although it reflects Mulligan, it never apes him, never descends into imitation. He serves more as an inspiration than a model. Her lines lope along, with fine counterpoint provided by Jon Krupa on the trombone. The rhythm section propels it and the solos take the music into higher levels. Pilzer's improvisation skills are well-honed and her playing often goes in unexpected directions that even as they take you by surprise, they cause you to appreciate their logic and inevitability.

Strunkin' is a major accomplishment for a first album.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

4 March 2017

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