Music

Eldar Djangirov: Virtue

The precocious pianist makes his eighth (!) album, and a thriller, but mars it with a synth patch that accomplishes nothing.


Eldar Djangirov

Virtue

Label: Sony Masterworks
US Release Date: 2009-08-25
UK Release Date: 2009-08-24
Artist website
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

In jazz, first-name status is generally earned the long and hard way. There can be only one Miles or Dizzy, but even more common first names -- Louis, Oscar, Billie, Sarah -- can be infused with singular meaning because decades of astonishment demand it.

What to make, then, of "Eldar", the one-name handle of a young pianist (Eldar Djangirov) who is not yet 23? His label, Sony Masterworks, would certainly prefer that he have more in common with Madonna Ciccone than with Art Tatum, outfitting and coiffing him for his cover with as much cool as he can hold. But no matter the promotional weight of Sony, this kid -- discovered at nine when playing in Siberia, then a prodigy sensation at 12 after moving to the United States -- is still a jazz pianist. Simply put, no matter how tricky his surname is to pronounce, he ain't "Eldar" yet.

What he is: a technical wiz, a prodigious melodist, a compelling improviser. Also, sometimes a show-off, often an abuser of a synthesizer, sometimes a sentimentalist. But Virtue, his eighth (!) recording, is largely winning and warm. Djangirov may now be a veteran of the scene, but he still approaches his music with the I'm-Going-To-Blow-You-Away! attitude of a young man. As a result, the bulk of Virtue sets about doing exactly that.

His trio, which is the backbone of the record, relishes the kind of tricky business that Chick Corea has always been so good at, and the slick-as-a-trick drumming and electric bass put Djangirov squarely under the shadow of the great Jazz Scientologist. Like Corea, Djangirov spins somewhat baroque jazz improvisations that crackle as much as any electric guitar. When he is running the show, the young man is flat our fun to listen to. Fully on its own, the trio entertains.

But on Virtue there is more, for better or worse. The guest saxophonists mostly work out well. On the opener, "Exposition", Djangirov enlists Joshua Redman, who can spar with the pianist like a champ, keep the complex tune feeling limber and hot. It's probably gilding the lily, then, that Djangirov tosses in some electric piano under Redman's solo, then follows the reprise of the melody with a ripping and echo-effected synthesizer solo. A similar pattern prevails on "Blues Sketch in Clave", but with Felipe Lamoglia on tenor sax. The tune gets your heart rate up without the digital signal, so why bust out a blast of the '70s?

It makes more sense, perhaps, that Djangirov whips out the synth on "The Exorcist", as he has no woodwind foil and wants to get another color. When the digi-horn enters the tune, it jiggers up and down the scales with a near-classical rigor, sounding less human (or course) than Djangirov's piano. The problem, perhaps, is that it reminds us that the young pianist's default tendency is to clutter his solos with this kind of virtuosic pattern-making. It happens again on "Daily Living", where a charming and shaded composition is suddenly overrun by a soaring synth solo that requires the trio to bash away in accompaniment. It's hard to hear these tunes and not feel that sticking with the trio -- capable of more than enough fancy footwork on its own -- would have been preferable.

When Djangirov does that, the results get deeper into some real expression. "Iris" is a ballad, and it plays to Djangirov's strengths by incorporating the shape of a classical melody with the supple feeling of jazz. Nearly right away, electric bassist Armando Gola seeps through the melody to add delicate lines like an undated Steve Swallow, and the closing of the piece is turned over to delicate solo piano. "Lullaby Fantazia" sets up an succession of flowing harmonies that are expressed in both highly structured terms and as an impressionistic set of waves. There is nothing dull or insufficiently colorful about this synth-less trio, and some of the best moments on the recording are on this tune, when the pianist is deliberately negotiating the puzzle of his own tune -- and doing it with honest invention.

The most exciting track here is surely "Blackjack", with Lamoglia and trumpeter Nicholas Peyton. Djangirov punches out a gospel jazz groove that the horn match in a snapping attack that is contrasted with a flowing melodic line in the bridge. The leader properly solos first, but he gives most impressive setting to Peyton, who solos against a spare but funky background. When the melody returns, however, there is that synth again, and damn if it doesn't insist on trading phrases at the end with Peyton. It's enough to get you to throw up your arms. Djangirov is in love with that synth. A young man's prerogative, perhaps, but still lamentable.

Curiously, Djangirov rarely integrates his digital tool into the early part of his tunes—rather, he chooses to bring in the synth at the end of these tunes as a kind of ambush. The bulk of the music here, however, sounds simply terrific on its own. Fans of straight-ahead music will find in Djangirov a brilliant new technician, but they won't like the cold, unnecessary, and strident synthesizer. But music fans who choose to look beyond the straight-ahead will not find a pianist who is generally challenging the post-bop status quo. This is the paradox of Virtue: it is pretty much conventional in all the ways that matter even though it was made by a very very young artist.

Given the time and space to develop, Eldar Djangirov is certain to create more and more daring music—music that may ultimately find a way to make his synthesizer relevant and exciting. In the meantime, Virtue is a fun and zinging listen, even if it is only momentarily brilliant.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image