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 Tuesday, 19 August 2014
Eldar Live at the Blue Note PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Saturday, 05 August 2006

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Eldar Live at the Blue Note CD Cover

Sometimes success finds a young artist too early. Such was the potential danger when Kyrgyzstan prodigy Eldar Djangirov took an interest in the piano at age three, began serious studies while still in elementary school, and caught the ear of Dr. Billy Taylor at 11. After appearing with Taylor on CBS Sunday Morning, Eldar and his family relocated to Kansas City where he could pursue his interest in jazz through studies with local musicians and at Interlochen. Still in his early teens, he went on to win top prizes at the 2001 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and the 2002 Peter Nero Piano Competition; in 2004 he appeared on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, her youngest guest ever.

Yet the story continues. Pianist Benny Green notes, "Eldar's talent is undeniable; he possesses remarkable ease in his technical fluency, coupled with a free-flowing sense of harmonic coloration." Comparisons with jazz greats abound, as Eldar seemingly channels the touch of Bill Evans, the power and swing of Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, the magnificent harmonics of McCoy Tyner, and the invention of Herbie Hancock with “vigor, stylistic range and dazzling speed” (New York Times). After hearing Eldar, jazz great Benny Carter said, "He's one of the most outstanding artists I've heard in a long, long time." Noted Billy Taylor, "…Eldar Djangirov's playing shows brilliancy, complexity, and discipline… he's serious about his music, he's thoughtful about what he does and he's a regular kid."


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Eldar © Andrea Canter
The “kid” is now a nineteen-year-old student at the University of Southern California, and has just released his second recording for Sony Classical, Live at the Blue Note, which he celebrated in tandem with Randy Weston’s release of African Rhythms Trio at the Blue Note, July 5-9, 2006. Featuring his working trio (Marco Panascia on bass, Todd Strait on drums) and trumpeting guests Chris Boti and Roy Hargrove, it’s a natural and worthy successor to Eldar’s self-title debut (2005), a studio disc filled with ethereal and heady originals and cleverly deconstructed covers. Recording live during a Blue Note gig last fall was a special opportunity, notes Eldar, because “what you see is what you get—you can’t change that moment. I think we’re going to have a ball.”

And it definitely sounds like the trio had a lot of fun on the stage of the Blue Note last October. With four originals and six standards ranging from Monk to Ellington to Porter to Timmons, nothing is repeated from Eldar’s debut recording except his fabulous chops. While showing much potential as a composer, at this point in the evolution of Eldar, his improvisations of standards are far more interesting. Yet, one can not deny the elegance of the balladic “Someday,” reminiscent of the slow-tempo creations of Hiromi and Geoffrey Keezer. A cycle of melody, harmony, and dynamics rises and falls like the tide, although after while you wish the tide would turn a bit. Filigree variations spiral and float throughout a track that offers ample demonstration of Eldar’s forceful left hand and exquisite right.

“Daily Living” is structurally akin to “Someday” with its repeating phrases and dynamic cycles, but more upbeat, as if the following movement of a grand suite. From the introduction, the piece moves into a blues-tinged melody rising above an assertive bassline from Marco Panascia, who, with Todd Strait, infuses considerable energy into this track. Strait has a rumbling sidebar toward the midsection, introducing a minor slowdown, while in the latter third of the piece, we heard more assertion from Eldar’s powerful left hand. With its harp-like cascading introduction and layers of lyricism, “Sincerely” sounds like a variant on a familiar classical theme of the Romantic era. The pianist in solo mode embellishes his lines like a weaver spinning a multi-pile thread, revealing a deep well of emotion for one so young. Wisely, Eldar keeps this track relatively short, avoiding the risk of an overwrought statement.

“Chronicle,” on the other hand, is the longest track of the recording. While certainly reflecting his improvisational style, it also tends to be indistinguishable from the approach often taken by Eldar and other modern composers and improvisers where the chord structure vaguely informs the pianist’s running antics, where repetition rules, where chords and lines cycle and recycle, right and left hands trading off. Technically, Eldar here is amazing, but the musical ideas seem less interesting than what he displays on the cover tracks. Panascia has a buoyant solo here that takes him up and down the box. Strait gets his due as well, trading off with the pianist with some high-flying rattling and smoldering rumbles. The energy level builds throughout, finally receding in the last minute with a final authoritative chord.

The rest of the recording reinforces my reaction to the first outing—this young man has big ears and a broad palette from which to paint his response to classic and standard fare. On the opening track, Eldar wastes little time deconstructing Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, and the furious bass rambles of Panascia add to an urgent groove. Strait cuts loose with a fury of his own; even here Eldar does not lay out but carefully places a ripple here, a chord there before the trio roars back together. His articulation at breakneck speed is as fluent as anyone playing today and justifies comparisons to Tatum. There’s hints of a montuno overdrive underlying the outchorus while his right hand tosses out fragments of melody before the resolving vamp. Guest Chris Boti stars on “You Don’t Know What Love Is”—maybe intended as a response to “What Is This Thing Called Love?”-- starting out with a mournful melody over Eldar’s rippling arpeggios which cascade in the background. This is not the Chris Boti of smooth jazz fame but an artist who has maintained his jazz chops despite his commercial appeal. Eldar’s solo is ripe with Evanescence, proving he understands slow and lyrical as well as fast and furious.

Eldar seems to have a soft spot for Bobby Timmons, including “Moanin’” on the first recording and now “Dat Dere.” A mild-mannered introduction gives way to a sweeping theme before Panascia sets the pace for the great bluesy standard. It’s all nice and thick, full of well-executed technical strategies--chord sequences, fast runs, swinging blues, rippling two handers and sliding scales. Maybe this is the Kansas City connection? Strait maintains a busy and swinging pulse, and Panascia’s solo suggests he would have been a good partner for Timmons. Again we hear Eldar adding a little fill, not a distraction, just a voice as if nodding approval musically. After a brief explosion from Strait, Eldar engages in an almost Monkish conversation between right and left hands, and a swinging, two-fisted finale.

“Besame Mucho” is less often heard as an instrumental versus vocal. Typically given a Latin vibe, this arrangement is pure American post bop. Although the introduction is somewhat overdone with sentimental twirls, the melody is an elegant presentation, a much lighter, more feathery touch than elsewhere on this recording. Moving into his improvisation, Eldar gives the tune an unusual abstraction, while the bass is sufficiently subtle yet a significant guidepost, ensuring overall impact. About midway, the pianist sounds more orchestral and vibrant, Tyneresque in his clusters of chords that Strait seems to match jab for jab. The fire recedes to a slow smolder, finally evaporating into the night air.

“Straight No Chaser” features second guest, Roy Hargrove. With Eldar’s symphonic phrases and Hargrove’s mighty horn, at times the ensemble seems like a quintet or sextet. Panascia lays down a mighty popping bassline; and Hargrove is at his swinging best over Eldar’s chunky vamp. The pianist picks up the gauntlet with some of his most playful and personalized deconstructions of the set, a superb response to Hargrove’s challenge. The two then engage in a back and forth volley of mirror-image phrases that would have surely pleased Monk, resolving in a unison restatement of the theme and a snappy crackle from Strait. The set ends with a quick (under three minutes) run through “Take the A-Train.” Recalling Tatum and Oscar Peterson with ad-libbed rhythmic alterations, this seems a likely encore to one set, a quick, virutosic solo display, almost a rag in its harmonies and dexterity demands. Eldar—like the rest of us listening-- had a ball!

Child prodigies are typically under a lot of pressure as they mature, as the world waits for them to fall, often expecting less and less as they move along. But like Geoffrey Keezer, Eldar just keeps moving forward. Imagining where this potential will take him is like imagining the edge of our galaxy.


www.eldarjazz.com for a full touring schedule and more information.



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