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Zoe Rahman

Live: With Special Guest Idris Rahman


by Ian Mann

May 12, 2009


Technically brilliant, but there is also a vitality and a life affirming quality about this album that make it essential listening

This live recording is a worthy addition to the increasingly impressive Zoe Rahman catalogue and is a good snapshot of the energy this excellent trio is able to generate in concert. The trio were captured at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on 14th April 2007 and Zoe has been selling the album at gigs for some eighteen months now but the quality of the playing fully justifies this official release.

Joining Zoe on piano are her regular trio members Oli Hayhurst (bass) and the dynamic expatriate American drummer Gene Calderazzo. Zoe’s brother Idris adds his distinctive clarinet playing to a couple of tracks, bringing a whole new dimension to the music.

Regarding the material there is little overlap with Zoe’s previous studio recordings “The Cynic” and the Mercury nominated “Melting Pot”. “Last Note” and the Bengali flavoured “Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli” (both from “Melting Pot”) are the only tunes represented on Zoe’s other records. The “Live” album actually pre-dates “Where Rivers Meet” (2008), Zoe and Idris’ jazz filtered exploration of their Bengali heritage.

The bulk of the tunes actually come from outside writers (all pianists) but are pieces that the Rahman trio clearly love to play. There are two pieces from Zoe’s former tutor Joanne Brackeen, a further brace from Abdullah Ibrahim, plus compositions from Phineas Newborn and Mario Laghina making the selection a highly international affair.

The trio begin their journey in South Africa with Ibrahim’s celebratory “The Stride”, a piece full of joyous township vibes. The trio clearly have a ball playing this with Zoe’s tumbling lines matched by Calderazzo’s busy drumming as Hayhurst keeps the whole thing just about grounded. The trio generate a relentless energy here and having seen this line up live on several occasions I can just picture the smile on Zoe’s face as she and Calderazzo exchange ideas. A great start.

Idris joins the party for Portugese pianist Mario Laginha’s “Ha Gente Aqui”. His slippery, serpentine clarinet lines immediately grab the attention and the energy rarely flags in another winning group performance. The excellent Hayhurst is featured as a soloist as Calderazzo chatters around him adding a welcome dash of colour to the proceedings.

Brackeen’s tricky stop/start “Friday 13th” features more sparkling dialogue between pianist and drummer. Those only familiar with Calderazzo in his role with jazz rock giants Partisans may be surprised to hear just how responsive he is in this relatively exposed trio situation. It’s an aspect of his playing that has improved exponentially over the years but in the right circumstances his undoubted power remains undimmed. Rahman clearly loves working with him and each regularly pushes the other to new heights of inventiveness. 

Ibrahim’s taut “Tuang Guru” offers another example of this before seguing into “Mucche Jaoa Dinguli” from “Melting Pot”. Idris returns on clarinet to add an appropriately Eastern aspect to this beautiful Bengali tune by Hemant Mukherjee. It’s the quietest and most reflective tune on the album thus far and in many ways a welcome pause for breath.

Phineas Newborn’s “Harlem Blues” adds blues and gospel flavourings to the mix in a tune inspired by the folk song “Gotta Travel On”. Zoe and the trio have more fun with this treating us to a joyous, energetic reading complete with a flamboyant solo from the frequently dazzling Calderazzo.

Brackeen’s second offering is “Egyptian Tune Dance” which sounds as if it must be fiendishly tricky to play, full of lightning runs and choppy chords. Whatever the technical challenges the trio still seem to enjoy every minute of it in another invigorating performance.

Finally comes Zoe’s own “Last Note” (from “Melting Pot”) which builds from the quiet beginnings of Oli Hayhurst’s solo bass intro to become a rousing set closer.

Anyone who has admired Zoe’s recorded work should add this live album to their collection. Duplication of material is minimal and the album highlights an energy and playfulness present in Zoe’s musical personality that the studio records don’t always entirely represent. The playing is of a uniformly high technical standard and there is a vitality and a life affirming quality about this album that make it essential listening. 

The only minor quibble one could have is the relative lack of variation in mood and pace. But when a group is clearly enjoying itself as much as this one is- whilst simultaneously stretching it’s abilities- it would be a hard man that denied them their fun. “Live” has an infectious quality that transmits itself to the listener. Highly recommended.

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