Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Zoe & Idris Rahman

Where Rivers Meet


by Ian Mann

December 13, 2008


A thoroughly enjoyable musical journey. One of the most distinctive releases of the year

Anglo/Bengali sister and brother Zoe Rahman (piano) and Idris Rahman (reeds) have both made a considerable impact on the UK jazz scene with their individual projects. “Where Rivers Meet” finds them combining forces to explore their Bengali heritage and the result is one of the most distinctive releases of the year. The blend of gorgeous Bengali melodies with the sibling’s superb jazz honed musicianship makes for an irresistibly charming musical mix.

Pianist Zoe has released two studio albums of mainly original material under her own name in the piano trio format. “The Cynic” (2000) was followed by “Melting Pot” which was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Music Prize. She has also recorded a live album (with Idris guesting) for sale at gigs containing material largely unavailable on her studio albums and featuring tunes from writers such as Abdullah Ibrahim and her mentor Joanne Brackeen. Zoe has also worked with Clark Tracey, Jerry Dammers and Reem Kalami as well as with her brother Idris in the group Soothsayers.

Idris Rahman is co-leader (with trumpeter Robin Hopcraft) of the multi cultural London based band Soothsayers who blend jazz, reggae, Afro beat and other genres into a thought provoking but highly danceable musical stew. He has guested with his sister ,appeared with guitarist and composer Jonny Phillips’ marvellous Oriole band and with the singer Julia Biel. Idris is also an in demand engineer and producer (his engineering credits include work on another Mercury nominated album “Basquiat Strings With Seb Rochford”) and the production skills he brings to this album contribute greatly to it’s success. The beautifully crystalline sound he gets for Zoe’s piano is case in point. Although concentrating on clarinet and flute on this recording he is also a highly talented saxophonist.

The seeds for this project were sown on “Melting Pot” when Zoe recorded the tune “Mucche Jaoa Dinguli” by the Bengali popular songwriter Hemant Mukherjee. The piece became a staple part of her trio’s live sets and an invitation to appear at the 2006 Bangla beat Festival on London’s South Bank was a further encouragement to explore this area further. But perhaps most important of all was Zoe’s discovery of the popular Bengali songs loved by her father when she transferred the material from his old tape cassettes on to CD so that he had something to listen to during a spell in hospital.

The music on “Where Rivers Meet” was recorded in May 2007 but it’s taken a time for the CD to actually get released. I was lucky enough to get something of a preview when the Rahmans took their Bengali project to the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham in December 2007. Zoe was joined by Idris on clarinet and by her regular trio members bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo of Partisans fame. Adding yet another dimension to the sound was percussionist Kuljit Bhamra. This certainly whetted my appetite for the new release and was a wonderful evening of music. I’ve seen the trio a couple of times too and always been impressed as I have been albeit in a different way by Soothsayers.

Hayhurst, Calderazzo and Bhamra are all present and correct on the album alongside the Rahmans and violinist Samy Bishai. As much of the source material is drawn from film music or popular song there are also a number of guest vocalists including the sibling’s father Mizan Rahman. Research for the project has seen the Rahmans visiting their ancestral homeland of Bangla Desh where Arnob’s two vocal contributions were recorded. The other featured singers are Gaurob and Joseph Aquilina. William Radice author of “Teach Yourself Bengali” has provided English song titles and translations of the lyrics for the CD booklet. 

The album commences with “O River” with Zoe’s rippling piano evoking water imagery before Idris’ clarinet dances over Bhamra’s rich tabla undertow. It’s melodic, airy and lovely and sets the tone for the album as a whole.

This is some of the least complicated music Zoe has recorded and marks a move away from the knotty (but very good) compositions on her trio albums. “Rivers” concentrates on bringing out the beauty of the Bengali melodies even though it refracts them through the prism of the Rahmans’ jazz sensibilities.
With it’s loving arrangements it succeeds brilliantly as evidenced by the second track “Invitation Missed”.

“Sanctuary” introduces Bishai’s violin, unmistakably Bengali in origin but set against the power of Calderazzo’s drums to create an authentic fusion of influences.

“Sanctuary” is the first vocal item paced by Zoe’s piano and featuring Idris on flute. There is also a remarkable vocal performance from Arnob, full of power and emotion.

“You Came Like Welcome Rain” showcases Idris on clarinet together with Zoe’s dense piano backing. Bhamra’s dexterous tabla and percussion work is also featured prominently on yet another winning melody.

The brief but gorgeous melody of “Now You’ve Gone” comes from the pen of Jasim Uddin who also wrote the song “Betrayed”. This latter piece is a beautiful duet for Idris’ clarinet and Zoe’s piano.

The brooding and atmospheric “Pilgrim’s Song” features the voices of Joseph Aquilina, Guarob, Mizan Rahman and Idris Rahman with Aquilina taking the vocal lead. Idris deploys the woody sound of the bass clarinet as Zoe’s piano ebbs and flows with sympathetic support from Hayhurst and Calderazzo.

Mizan Rahman is heard again on the spoken word verses of the beautiful “Mind’s Eye” which features delightful contributions from Zoe, Idris and Kuljit Bhamra on a wonderfully flowing melody.

“Streams Of Joy” is another vehicle for the emotive vocals of Arnob and the piece also features the distinctive sound of Bishai’s violin. Hayhurst also enjoys a spell in the spotlight with a pithy, high register bass solo.

“Suddenly It’s Dusk Again” begins with Zoe’s piano flourishes and with Calderazzo’s involvement it comes closer to the trio’s approach than other items on the album. However Idris’ mercurial clarinet lines ensure that the piece remains true to the spirit of the project.

“We’ll Surely Meet Again” is suitably wistful and elegiac but with a real cry in the sound of Idris’ clarinet. This is superbly evocative music. 

Guarob sings the closing “Do You Wish To Forget?” written by Rabindranath Tagore (also the writer of both “Invitation Missed” and “Streams Of Joy”) but with a melody sounding for all the world like “Auld Lang Syne”. Sung in a reflective manner and with street noises subtly added to the mix this is a gentle but uplifting way to end a thoroughly enjoyable musical journey.

Indo-Jazz fusion has rarely sounded as melodic as this and the Rahmans’ skilful arrangements and superb playing make for a charming and accessible album. Well done to all concerned.

blog comments powered by Disqus