Peggy Stern, Z Octet (Estrella Productions)
It has been 16 years since Peggy Stern last applied her piano, composing and arranging talents to a mid-sized ensemble. Z Octet was worth waiting for. The sonic textures, harmonic subtleties, rhythmic variety and instrumentation draw upon classical chamber music in several pieces, including “Anomie” and “Zinfandel.” In “The Elephant’s Tango” and “Jury Duty,” Latin cadences create pulsing undercurrents. Stern’s writing weaves piano, clarinet, cello, trombone, flute, bass and drums into rich and often surprising textures. Vocals by her and Suzi Stern (no relation) enrich three tracks. In the solo piano piece “Time @ Time/Hymn,” Stern experiments her way into the chords, but not the melody, of “Time After Time.” “Whenever Sunrise” also borders on free jazz. The CD ends with an unlisted bonus track that makes enchanting use of cello, trombone and flute. The whole album is a bonus.