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Rachel Z explores joy, sorrow, life and loss on new album 'Sensual'

Rachel Z celebrates her new album Sensual with a tour stop at Seattle's Triple Door June 6.
Miho Morita
Rachel Z/Groov Marketing
Rachel Z celebrates her new album Sensual with a tour stop at Seattle's Triple Door June 6.

Rachel Z creates layers of jazz and rock in her music. Her new album, Sensual, shows the pianist examining the layers of sensuality and includes a rocking final song dating back to her first years as a professional musician.

Rachel Z emerged in the world of jazz as Nirvana and Soundgarden were bringing the sound of punk rock to the masses in the early 1990s. She has carried her own rocking attitude over more than a dozen albums since.

Songs by rock bands Alice in Chains and Death Cab for Cutie are in the Rachel Z songbook, but also The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and original compositions that put pop sensibilities in the improvisational blender.

She plays a custom piano designed with a prominent bass sound on the lower keys and a softer, almost vocal sound in the middle and upper keys.

For more than a decade, Rachel Z has also counted on the rhythmic support of drummer, Omar Hakim, who is also her husband.

Hakim’s romantic and professional relationships are just two aspects of the sensuality described in her album’s title dedicated to living, feeling and sharing with the people you love.

Sadly, heartbreak is a sensation Rachel Z and Omar Hakim have been dealing with recently. Both of Rachel Z’s parents passed away in recent years and then she lost her most important mentor, jazz legend Wayne Shorter.

Hakim, whose cross-genre career includes playing percussion on the Foo Fighters' album Midnight Medicine, also dealt with the death of that band’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins, in 2022.

The final song on Sensual is a rendition of the Foo Fighters’ “These Days,” which sets the catchy melody in slightly off-kilter time signatures. Hakim’s confident drumming shares the spotlight with Rachel Z’s piano.

The most exciting moment of the song is Hakim’s drum solo, evoking the sensations of sorrow and love for his fallen friend.

Less prominent but worthy of praise is the trio’s longtime bassist, Jonathan Toscano, who provides a beautiful, soulful solo to a song otherwise dominated by the co-leaders.

Creating collaborative variety on Sensual, bassist Matt Penman is featured in the trio for five songs. Toscano appears on three with King Crimson bassist Tony Levin completing the group for the album’s title song.

It’s Toscano who’s touring with Rachel Z and Hakim to celebrate Sensual this spring. You can catch them at Seattle's Triple Door June 6, where you're sure to get "all the feels" from this sensational trio.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.