Shangri La – Dan Bilawsky

Dann Zinn: Shangri La (2014)
By Dan Bilawsky
Published: October 6, 2014

Maybe we’ve had it all wrong about Shangri-La. Instead of viewing it as a fictional utopian locale, as laid out by author James Hilton in his famed Lost Horizon (Macmillan, 1933), it can be alternately viewed as a wide-open musical state of being waiting to be explored. That’s what saxophonist Dann Zinn seems to go for on this aptly-titled release.

For this project, Zinn put together a flexible trio capable of blurring lines. Atmospherics and solid-state jams exist simultaneously, peace and war work in the same space, empty canvases can turn busy at a moment’s notice, and the line between the scripted and the spontaneous is often hard to read. Zinn’s musical version of the titular idyllic wonderland is really as multi-dimensional as you can get. Zinn and his partners on this journey—guitarist Chris Robinson and drumming icon Peter Erskine—are open-minded and open to anything. When these three get going, there’s no telling what they’ll do. Serenity gives way to heat (“Daydreams”); the raw and raunchy come to the surface (“Wanderlust”); a Green Day pop hit is re-imagined as a vehicle for wood flute (“Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life”); the allure of the matador comes into focus (“The Bullfighter”); and a state of questioning is explored to the fullest (“Rain”).

Along the way, there are lots of sonic marvels and technical wonders to behold. Zinn’s register-hopping groove creation during “Voodoo” is a gas, his epic battle with Robinson on “Wanderlust” is an obvious highlight, and his sensitive looks at dissimilar artists—Johannes Brahms, Giacomo Puccini, and Green Day—are each beautiful in their own way(s). Erskine, as always, can whisper or grind to perfection, and Robinson proves to be a man of many moods and colors. Have these three found the mystical realm they were looking for? There’s no way to truly answer that, but they’ve certainly carved out some great music that speaks to their strong chemistry and skills.