Denny Zeitlin with George Marsh and Mel Graves ‘The Name of this Terrain’ 2LP+CD (Now-Again Reserve) 5/5

This wonderful Now-Again release falls into one of my favourite musical categories – the “smart arse, self aware and playfully wonky” category. In fact, it is exemplar; the absolute zenith of “smart arse, self aware and playfully wonky” music.

It is zany, intelligent, occasionally chaotic and both adultly complex yet art studently naive. It’s stylistically very late 60s – jazz rocky, experimental, groovy. It drops reminders of many greats of that time and beyond; Zappa; Sly Stone; Ken Nordine; Eugene McDaniels; Stark Reality; Yes; Iron Butterfly; Tubes.

On first hearing, I thought to myself “This sounds like a soundtrack to those trippy 70s Sesame Street animations”. And, guess what? It was! Well, not this specific music but Denny Zeitlin and Grace Slick did team up as the “Jazz Spies”, offering musical encouragement to those early Gen Z, flairs wearing, hula hooping, TikTok safe kids who were, at the time, learning how to count from 2 to 10 – see:

Denny Zeitlin is a pianist, composer and psychiatrist(!). Obviously, he’s way too impressive to be sufficiently covered in this simple/simplistic review but here’s two fun highlights; (i) it took 6hrs at gigs to set-up his extensive (but never exhaustive) pile of electronics and (ii) he wrote the “Invasion of the Body Snatcher” movie score.

“The Name Of This Terrain” is performed by Zeitlin (mad keys and vocals) and the very talented Mel Graves (bass and synth) and George Marsh (drums and backing vocals).

“Are you hip to the name of this terrain that stretches for miles inside of you?”

The 12 minute, titular opener overtly lets us know what’s to come. It has 4ish distinct parts ranging from the playfully funky to the freest jazz. There’s engaging lyrics, properly ON IT bass, fizzing beats and a good three minutes of acoustic/electronic free exploration. “Hey you plant the trees here, you make the breeze here.” Zeitlin and Marsh’s vocals are a delight; honest, expressive and message-first.

“2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back” comps off with solo clavinet before the trio drop into a laid back, urban gospel, gadda-da-vida thing; buoyed by fuzzy organ break and churchy layers before an explosive, correctly incongruous, fast finger clicking, cool cat jazz bit.

“Gonna Take You Away” is a fiercely funky psych hipfest; A wIld Ken Nordine oblivious to the electronic spasms; A Captain Kirk beamed up by a young Bootsy Collins, baby. Marsh and Graves take zero prisoners on this – Marsh especially. I’m surprised I’ve not heard this sampled.

“What’s In It For You?” is a wonky soul-jazz organ that bursts into a Zappa/Tubes lyrically visual epic followed by an overdrive that’s being driven over a surging, soaring organ and then a beautifully rejuvenative, bluesy solo break – as uplifting and hopeful as the sun breaking cloud. “Free Piece” is a goofy, studenty, free word association piece.

A couple of caipirinhas later and “The Wizard” tipsily sambas into the studio to lead a hippy psych-jazz musical theatre production that falls into a flaccid, intoxicated, oil projected “Heart Of The Sunrise” outro.

There’s everything for me to love here; Jazzers that can rock and funk; a late 60s aesthetic; highly visual, smartly poetic, lightly ironic lyrics; an endearingly playful, experimental spirit. These are brains and souls that just had to explore; to understand it, and themselves, by doing, not by conceptualising or defining. And these brains and souls went and produced my favourite smart-arsed, playfully wonky album of all time. I suspect even Oscar the Grouch wouldn’t have a bad word to say. He might even find room for it in his bin.

Thanks to Egon at Now-Again for having the ear and the persistence (Zeitlin was having none of it at first!) to get this released and for fermenting those wonderful liner notes in 66 DRC Montrachet and a Musigny Pinot. Salut.

Ian Ward

Editor Note : Following publication of Ian’s review, we were thrilled to hear from the great George Marsh who told us “The mention of Sesame Street was interesting as I later was involved in all the pinball cartoons dealing with numbers up to 12” see:

“Ian mentioned why wasn’t I sampled?, well I was a bit later when DJ Shadow lifted my voice off of a Standard Oil Educational record released in 1974” see: