Eldar Djangirov, AKA Eldar, took the jazz world by storm as a young teenager. If ever there was a child prodigy, Eldar was he. He was born in the then-Soviet Union city of Kyrgyzstan on January 28, 1987. His father was an engineer, his mother a musicologist. At age five he began studying piano and he played his first jazz festival when he was only nine years old. That appearance led to his family moving to the United States when he was twelve. When he was still only twelve he appeared on Marion McPartland’s Piano Jazz, the youngest performer ever to appear on that esteemed show. At age thirteen he was invited to perform on the 2000 Grammy Awards TV broadcast.
Now we jump to the present. At the ripe old age of 27, Eldar lives in New York City and travels the country playing jazz, a schedule that includes some solo performances and some with his trio. [In early December of 2013 he played two nights at Jazz Alley in Seattle but he unfortunately did not make it to Portland. So near yet so far!]
Eldar has released several albums during the last ten years. I wrote about one of them previously in JFASN #76, which was published on May 25, 2013. It was one of the first reviews I wrote after moving the blog to WordPress.
That album, “Re-imagination,” was one that a lot of jazz people disliked because Eldar experimented with different instruments and included some modern elements that are anathema to those jazz fans whose vision is limited to looking back, not forward. (To their dismay, “Re-imagination” was nominated for a Grammy in 2008.)
The album I’m going to discuss this time appeals to a much broader audience, and I think the readers of this column, a more open-minded bunch than a lot of jazz fans, will like it too.
At age seventeen, Eldar was signed to Sony Masterworks and produced the album, “Eldar.” It is a fantastic piece of musicianship, and I played the hell out of it on “Saturday Night Jazz.”
Sony knew they had a musical phenomenon on their hands, as can be seen by the personnel for this disk:
Eldar Djangirov, piano
John Patitucci, acoustic and electric bass
Todd Strait, drums and percussion
Michael Brecker, making a special guest appearance on tenor sax (track 4 only)
“Eldar” gives us eleven songs, including four written by Eldar. The opener is a high-flying rendition of the classic, “Sweet Georgia Brown.” This one takes off from the first notes and doesn’t let up.
Here’s a chance to hear Eldar performing “Sweet Georgia Brown” from the album, Eldar:
After the breakneck pace of “Sweet Georgia Brown,’ we are treated to a quietly beautiful version of “Nature Boy,” with Patitucci on bass dominating with quiet resolve while Eldar gives him equally mellow backup. Then a role-reversal takes place and Eldar’s piano, still tender and mellow, takes the forefront quite decisively and stays there until the final note fades to quiet.
Here is Eldar performing “Nature Boy” from “Eldar.”
The Bobby Timmons standard “Moanin'” is next. As you might expect, Eldar turns this into a tour de force, blowing away any hint of quiet or mellow. Straight’s drums and perc get a good workout on this one, and Patitucci’s presence is not hidden either. With a running time of just over seven and a half minutes, “Moanin'” is the longest song on this disk, and you will love every minute as Eldar hits riff after riff with lightning quick finesse. Then all goes quiet as Patitucci drags his bass to the front while Eldar gently, quietly hits just the right fill notes. Then the boy wonder is back in the lead, taking forceful strokes while Straight sets the pace. I’ve always loved “Moanin’,” and this version is right up there among my favorites.
After “Moanin'” comes one of Eldar’s compositions, “Point Of View” featuring Michael Brecker on tenor sax. Brecker joins in a few seconds after Eldar kicks it off. This song does not progress at quite the same hectic pace as, say, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” but it is far from being a mellow ballad. Brecker hits to the higher notes of his instrument often for this one, which I found to be intriguing.
Next we have “Raindrops,” another song Eldar wrote. Coming from the “master of manic,” this one seems downright sedate as he tries to recreate musically the sound of raindrops on a window. Beautiful piece.
“Lady Wicks” follows. This is yet another of Eldar’s pieces, and like “Raindrops” it is surprisingly mellow. This is a perfect backdrop for late at night, when all you want is to wind down and relax.
I’m going to skip ahead now to the final song on this disk that was written by Eldar and the final song I intend to write about this time, and that is “Watermelon Island.” This is a truly remarkable piece of music. It opens at full speed, then slows a bit and loses some of the fast-paced tension without ever becoming anything that could be called “quiet” or “mellow.” Eldar has the lead pretty much throughout this one, and never lets up, pushing relentlessly forward right up to the false ending a minute or so before the real one. The song then builds again in intensity, until it finally fades away.
Here is Eldar and the guys performing “Watermelon Island.”
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Of course. I think the album “Eldar” would make a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
You can learn more about Eldar and his music by visiting his web site. Also on his webs site is a page of videos of Eldar performing a number of songs live at various concert venues. There is a bit of a bare-bones bio of him on Wikipedia. The allmusic.com web site unfortunately has even less info than Wikipedia, so I’m not going to waste time giving you the link.
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