The music of multi-instrumentalist Spencer Zahn is marked by openness: spacious sonic landscapes, rich with contributions from his creative community. Zahn’s newest album, Sunday Painter, is a refined step forward for the New York City-based musician — a lush collection of instrumental songs that undulate along waves of jazz, ambient pop, Americana, and neo-classical — pulling from Zahn’s established musical background and collaborative ethos.
Born in Massachusetts, Zahn started playing the bass at age 12. Since moving to New York in the mid-2000s, he has worked as a touring musician, performing live with a range of acts across the genre spectrum. Zahn’s career as a solo artist began later, around the same time he started playing with like-minded guitarist Dave Harrington, in 2015. "I felt really inspired to get back into the world of instrumental music," he explains, following the spark of inspiration that Harrington ignited. "Dave is central to everything I've done with my solo recordings. We both trust each other’s instincts."
Zahn’s first two solo albums, 2018’s People of the Dawn and 2019’s When We Were Brand New, were born out of solitary synth experiments, melding his jazz background with a warm electronic pulse. For his new record, Zahn opted for something more organic and cooperative, relying both on intuition and interplay. After sketching out the form of an album in Massachusetts, Spencer decided to make Sunday Painter a full-band affair, leaning into some of his favorite players to fill in the emergent album’s contours. "I didn't want to do overdubs," he explains. "I wanted to put together a group of people that I knew would be sensitive to playing together in a room and using the room as the extra member of the band.”
Inspired by the music of Keith Jarrett and the catalog of legendary jazz label ECM, as well as Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, Sunday Painter thrives on collaboration. Players Spencer Ludwig (trumpet), Mauro Refosco (percussion), Kenny Wollesen (drums), Andy Highmore (piano/Rhodes/organ), Jacob Bergson (piano/Rhodes), Mike McGarril (soprano saxophone), and Dave Harrington (guitar/electronics) all contribute to the album's ebbing layers and radiant sheen.
Sunday Painter emerges as a showcase for Zahn’s community of musicians, the ensemble providing a masterclass in interplay. The results are a gorgeous testament to in-the-moment music making, free of any physical or mental trappings: the gossamer clouds of opener "Key Biscayne" channel the title’s serene setting with lush layers of horns and gentle piano, before the dark-hued instruments of “The Mist” begin to swell. Even the album’s softer moments, like the meditative “Roya” and the languorous “At High Tide,” are ripe with interplay.
The album’s title track — a gorgeous, amber-hued moment of Americana with drifting guitar and cascading piano — serves as an apt summary of Zahn’s musical ethos. “The track ‘Sunday Painter’ is about finding solace in not having to make your living doing what you love," Zahn explains. "A lot of the people in my life are often touring and recording with a range of artists and then get to create their own music in their ‘off-time.’ That’s how this album was created — in between touring with different artists, I'd get in the studio and write a bunch of music. ‘Sunday Painter’ is an important song on the record to me for that reason."
Sunday Painter comes into view as a focused, yet intuitive next step in the career of a musician unafraid to break his own boundaries.
"I've been able to build a great community of caring people who are open-minded and want to create something together," he continues, channeling the all-hands attitude that made Sunday Painter the album it is now. “I’ve always liked improvised music and music that feels very alive. It's freeing, to be able to record music that's a snapshot of a moment in time."