A set melding its varied constituents into a deeply personal final form.
Martin Longley 2012
The core combo for pianist Zoe Rahman’s latest ethno-jazz odyssey is a trio, with bass and drums, although half of the pieces herein end up being expanded by a fourth member. In most cases it’s her brother Idris, playing clarinet; but reedsman Courtney Pine also steps in on one tune, wielding his less-likely alto flute. In recent times, Rahman has become a regular member of Pine’s group, which has magnified her already significant presence on the UK jazz scene.
Rahman has always skirted around jazz, dropping in classical influences and swishing around elements from her mixed heritage. Recent projects have concentrated on this later awareness, adding motifs from the pianist’s Bengali and Irish ancestry. The result, as with many globally-aware artists, is a type of composition that melds all of its disparate constituents into a final form that becomes difficult to disentangle, therefore taking on a deeply personal hue. Rahman also manages to thoroughly inhabit the three selections penned by the hugely influential Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
The global traversing aspect is even more evident in the playing of Idris Rahman, who gleefully hints at South African township, Indian classical music and klezmer, even if those phrases might only rise up fleetingly from his jazz foundation.
There’s a driving old-time bluesiness to the opening Down to Earth, surging forward with a percussive confidence. Rahman’s solos are decorated by her springy-touch key-runs, as drummer Gene Calderazzo snaps the beats with shifting accents. Pine’s flute breezes through the soft opening of Conversation With Nellie, which is misted with an Indian scent.
Equal attention is paid to pondering and punching, as each piece opens up a fresh mood, sometimes working through one to the other during the same tune. There’s little darkness here, as the composer favours a capering, joyful character. The traditional Butlers of Glen Avenue has Rahman making her Indian harmonium sound like an Irish accordion.
One hand is inside the piano for Outside In, dampening selected strings, starting out sparsely then gaining solidity. The only mournful stretch arrives with Imagination, as Idris switches to bass clarinet, swelling impressionistically before lurching towards a portentous climax. Stevie Wonder’s Contusion closes up the set, with Rahman’s reading enjoying almost exactly the same running time as the original, give or take a few seconds. What does this mean: happenstance or an ingrained familiarity with this ancient folkloric melody?