DownBeat Feb 2015 – 4 Stars
Shangri La features a bassless trio consisting of tenor, guitar and drums. While one may at first think of the Paul Motian Trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, the music of Dann Zinn’s group sometimes sounds closer to that of world-music group Oregon, although played with more fire.
The versatility of guitarist Chris Robinson, who sounds equally at home getting an acoustic folk sound as he does sounding rockish, is a key to the group’s success. Also quite significant is the sensitivity of drummer Peter Erskine, who often plays quietly in a supportive role yet gives the group a strong forward momentum when it is needed.
Dann Zinn is generally the lead voice, displaying a large tone on tenor. He contributed eight of the 11 selections on Shangri La, also interpreting themes by Brahms, Puccini and Green Day. “Daydreams” could be considered folk music except for the fairly free improvising during the solos. On “Voodoo,” Zinn plays octave jumps effortlessly, and his free-form flights are more rhythmic and accessible than one might expect. The loose ballad “Shangri La” precedes an intense tradeoff by his electrified tenor and Robinson’s passionate guitar on “Wanderlust.”
The statements by guitar and tenor on “Rain” are often out of tempo but never run short of ideas. After a brief flute interlude, Zinn uplifts Green Day’s “Good Riddance,” turning it into a folkish piece that one could imagine Charles Lloyd exploring. “The Bullfighter” is catchy, fits its title well and could be adopted by other musicians. Lyrical ballad treatments of themes by Brahms and Puccini (the latter has some fiery interplay by tenor and guitar) sandwich an exciting jam on the catchy and funky “Tic Tac Toe.”
All in all, Shangri La is a continually intriguing set of adventurous music that is often surprisingly melodic.
Read a PDF of the DownBeat review here.