New York-based jazz pianist Rachel Z (Nicolazzo) originally thought she'd wind up a classical musician. At two she was taking voice lessons, and by the age of nine she was studying piano. But after hearing Miles Davis's Miles Smiles
as a teenager, Rachel Z started improvising and joined a band that covered Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan songs. In 1988 Rachel, who graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, returned to New York and worked with Najee, Steps Ahead, Larry Coryell, Al DiMeola Special EFX, and Angela Bofill. She's worked in pop as well as jazz contexts, and on her 1998 Love Is the Power
album, she experimented with hip-hop-influenced music. While she's had a good deal of experience as an electronic keyboard player in fusion settings, Rachel Z has continued to play acoustic piano as well, as she does on her latest CD, On the Milky Way Express
. Here, along with bassist Miriam Sullivan and drummer Allison Miller, she plays the compositions of Wayne Shorter, who was a member of the mid-'60s Davis band that so impressed her. Rachel has drawn her piano style from a variety of sources, including McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans. She has very definite ideas about how each of Shorter's tunes should be handled and varies her approach from track to track, sometimes emphasizing restraint and lyricism, sometimes playing forcefully. If Rachel chooses to feature work from her more traditional Milky Way
CD, she'll appeal most to fans of Davis's band with Shorter and Hancock.