Saxophonist Rick Zelinsky has become arguably the most prominent proponent of jazz in Anchorage recently, with a string of live performances in local venues almost every week. But, in the cellphone age, it can be hard to follow the stream of musical logic in a bar. For “Icy Grooves,” Zelinsky headed to a studio with pianist Tom Bargelski, bass player Dirk Westfall and drummer Brandon Cockburn. The result is 10 clean cuts that respectfully showcase a range of jazz to satisfy discerning aficionados.
The most accessible pieces are covers of Sonny Rollins tunes, “Island Lady” and “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” sprightly, fun, infused with energy. Jazz is commonly associated with introspective late night moods, but “Island Lady” has become my new wake-up morning music; that number — with a cup of coffee and sunrise over the Chugach — just about guarantees the rest of the day will be good. A popping rendition of Daniel Flores party riff “Tequila” (which usually arrests the attention of the bar crowds) is also included. On the calmer side there are Sigmund Romberg’s evergreen “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” which runs almost nine minutes and finds Zelinsky caressing a long G for all it’s worth at the climax.
Two of Zelinsky’s own compositions are featured, the elegant “Be Like the Sun” and his signature funky romp “Zelydia.” Both are well prepared and presented, but what the studio adds in precision it can lose in spontaneity. I found the more expansive “Zelydia,” previously titled “Delydia,” on Zelinsky’s “Live” album, recorded at the Oasis in Spenard with different colleagues, a lot more lively. For instance, the solo by Cockburn on “Icy Grooves” (he plays on both CDs) felt perfunctory compared with his assertive and adventurous drumming with live listeners in front of him.
We’ll probably hear them both again. Zelinsky is talking about his next album. He says this one will have vocals.