Rachel Z: Sensual 

Although renowned for her electronic and fusion work, Z here plays mostly standard piano in trios featuring her husband Omar Hakim


When pianist Rachael Z released the track Bodhisattva ahead of Sensual, her 13th solo album, one at first assumed it would be a jazzed-up cover of the 70s Steely Dan song. What streamed was a slick re-recording of a Z original from an earlier album that, stylistically and melodically, sounded closer to something like Praise by smooth groove band L’Image than the Fagen and Becker rocker.

Like much of music here, Bodhisattva, is uplifting , emotive and melodically as vibrant as the picture sleeve. In fact, with the exception of some of the record’s more legit, straightahead tracks such as sultry ballad Forgive Me, or the more heavily percussive bossa Inamorata (complete with Aja-style percussive outro), Sensual is a trio record with pop sensibility.

Of course, this comes as no surprise given Z’s versatile variable career to date has seen her reimagine plenty of classic rock and pop (Lennon, Nirvana, Seal, Sting, Joni Mitchell et al) and work both as leader of her own jazz groups, and as a keyboard player with luminaries such as Peter Gabriel, Steps Ahead, Stanley Clarke, Pino Daniele, Al Di Meola and Wayne Shorter, not to mention the various “Ozmogroups” with her husband, legendary session drummer Omar Hakim.

With even broader experience in both major-league jazz and pop worlds, Hakim brings much to the material here. A player noted for his taste, touch and infectious feel, his approach to the songs and almost telepathic engagement with Z’s rhythmic, spirited playing (think Herbie and McCoy), not to mention peerless bass work from Mark Penman, Tony Levin or Jonathan Toscano, results in some lush musical chemistry and interplay. 

Away from the soothing, resolute mood of tracks like Save My Soul and the as melodically tranquil, bass-driven title track, the album’s stand-out moments for many might well be within the warm swell of the Weather Report-esque What I Fear, through the funky, Bob James-like What About the Kids or Z’s bold reading of the Foo Fighters’ These Days which, capturing some creative soloing and on-the-spot improv, brings this inspired set to a heavy, energetic climax.

If Sensual is short of anything, it would be British vocalist Rouhangeze whose inspired words to Sheppard’s Lullaby were sung over the track during a recent sold-out show Z and Co. performed at Ronnie Scott’s to support this release, Z’s finest to date.

Save My Soul; What I Fear; Bodhisattva; Forgive Me; What About the Kids; Inamorta; Shephard’s Lullaby; Sensual; These Days (54.34)
Z (p, kyb); Omar Hakim (d); Jonathan Toscano, Tony Levin, Matt Penman (b); Mino Cinelu (pc). Recorded at OH-Zone Studios, NJ, 2023.
Dot Time Records DT9144