Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beaten to the Punch: Zoe Rahman

I was going to write about Zoe Rahman, whose new release "Kindred Spirits" (2012 Manushi Records) has just been released, but was beaten to the punch not once, not twice, but three times this week. So first, let me post the e-mail addresses with reviews of the new disc since anything I write would at this point be duplicative, and then I will continue with a bit about the artist and the four previous recordings that I  recommend highly. The links:

 In the US you can get her recordings on CDBaby.

So who is Zoe Rahman, and why is she basically unknown in the US? She is first and foremost an incredibly talented and expressive pianist. She is the daughter of a Bengali father and English mother, is from the UK, and studied classical piano at the Royal Academy of Music, music at Oxford University and jazz performance at Berklee College of Music.
One of Rahman's main inspirations is JoAnne Brackeen, who is on the faculty at Berklee and taught her there. There is much of Brackeen's emotional strength and innovative playing in Rahman. I suggest readers who do not know Brakeen should, and should listen to her recordings as well. "Keyed In" (Columbia 1979), with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette, is a particular favorite of mine that I bought on vinyl when it first appeared. It may be tough to find, so try "Pink Elephant Magic" or "Popsicle Illusion" on Arkadia (1999 and 2000 respectively), which should be easier to locate, and her solo performance "Live at Maybeck" (Concord 1989).

Returning to Rahman, who celebrated her 41st birthday last week, she has firmly established herself as a star on the contemporary jazz scene in the UK. Her individual style melds classical music with jazz, western and eastern musical traditions, and a very diverse musical taste. She is an imaginative player, and though I have never seen her live, her recordings and You Tube clips display a fiery passion and exhuberance for her music.

Zoe Rahman : The CynicHer first recording was "The Cynic" (Manushi Records 2001), with Jeremy Brown on bass and Winston Clifford on drums. All of the compositions were by Rahman herself, a remarkable acheivement in itself, but made more so by the sheer quality of the music, with its strong attack reminiscent of Brackeen and McCoy Tyner, her strong melodic sense and use of varied rhythms within each song, and he improvisations that never stray too far from the basic structure and chords of the melody.

Zoe Rahman : Melting PotHer second album, "Melting Pot", with Gene Calderazzo on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass, was nominated in 2006 for the Nationwide Mercury Prize in the UK, and it won ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ at the UK’s first Parliamentary Jazz Awards. Of note on this CD is that the landscape is broadened to include her brother, clarinetist Idris Rahman, on Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli, the last track and only one not written by Rahman. The piece features a more eastern ambiance, heightened by the inclusion of Adriano Adewale Itauna on the udu (an African hand drum) along with the lilting sound of the clarinet. "Melting Pot" steps up both the intensity of the play as well as the intricacy of Rahman's composing talents, as well as the mixing of Western and Eastern musical traditions. A highlight is "Red Flower", perhaps the loveliest of all her songs to date, which is played at a slow, liquid pace with a more controlled touch and longer legato passages.

Zoe Rahman : LiveHer third disc was recorded live and simply called "Live", and once again features her brother on clarinet on "Muche Jaoa Dinguli", as well as on "Ha Gente Aqui". On the latter, the clarinet play is freer, with a stronger attacking quality which moves the pieces a bit more outside toward a free jazz sensibility. The clarinet is more pensive and sinuous on  "Muche Jaoa Dinguli", which brings down the energy as it flows towards a quieter, more pensive place. Overall, the attack and play is far freer on "Live", and the comparison to McCoy Tyner far stronger on several pieces, where Rahman uses some complex chordal structures. Rahman composed only one of the songs here, "Last Note", instead interpreting two pieces each by Abdullah Ibrahim and Joanne Brackeen, as well as a Phineas Newborn and others. "Live" showcases the interplay of her trio with Calderazzo and Hayhurst, and the haunting clarinet of her brother.

Product DetailsHer fourth album, "Where Rivers Meet", is collaboration with her brother as they explore music from their Bengali heritage. The album teams the two Rahmans with the rest of her trio as well as vocalists Arnob and Gaurob, violinist Samy Bishai and percussionist Kuljit Bhamra. The resulting Anglo-Asian music is very different than each of the previous works, but striking in its vision and melding of the two cultures.

Five albums over 11 years, each unique and each compelling, and each tremendously lyrical and expressive. The blending of all of Rahman's influences, the passionate playing, and intricacies explored between her piano and each of her partners, make each a true pleasure to listen to. To me, the influences that are strongest are those of Brackeen, Tyner, and Ibrahim, all strong players who balance an attacking style with a strong sense of melody and harmony, and whose trios might be characterized as being "encounters of the second kind" -- e.g. in a category with not only her influences but also other contemporaries like Brad Mehldau and John Law, and one step removed from the straight-ahead jazz trios of Red Garland, Wynton Kelly and so many others.

I cannot wait to hear the new disc when it arrives.

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