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Zoe Rahman Trio

Zoe Rahman Trio, The Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock, Shropshire. 09/10/2009

by Ian Mann

October 12, 2009


"A characteristically virtuoso display from this outstanding piano trio"

The first event in the new “Jazz Notes” series at The Edge Arts Centre featured a characteristically virtuoso display from pianist Zoe Rahman and her regular trio members Oli Hayhurst (bass) and Gene Caderazzo (drums). It’s a line up I’ve seen several times before and it’s one that never fails to impress.

The trio drew on material from Zoe’s three latest albums “Melting Pot” (which was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Music Prize), “Live” (2007) and “Where Rivers Meet” (2008). The last named was credited to Zoe and her brother Idris (reeds) and explored their Bengali heritage. Both Hayhurst and Calderazzo featured in an extended line up and a number of the tunes from that album have now been arranged for the trio. Reviews of “Live” and “Rivers” appear elsewhere on this site. There were also a couple of jazz standards (of which more later), both radically and imaginatively re-interpreted.

One of the most striking things about the live release was the sheer joy the trio take in their music making, pushing each other all the way but clearly loving every minute of it. “Serious fun” indeed, and these qualities were fully in evidence tonight, particularly in the second set when a drop of the the local brew had loosened up both band and audience.

The trio commenced with “The Stride” an Abdullah Ibrahim tune that also opens their live album. Like much of Zoe’s favourite “outside” material the piece has a memorable theme but also presents something of a technical challenge. After Zoe’s bravura solo piano intro she and Calderazzo took great delight in bouncing ideas off each other as Hayhurst anchored it all together. Zoe’s cascading runs were answered by Calderazzo’s polyrhythmic drum barrages. It was edge of the seat stuff and all the time Rahman and Calderazzo were grinning at each other as their good natured musical sparring grew ever more audacious. Marvellous.

From “Where Rivers Meet” “Tumi Ele” was the first Bengali tine of the album. Substantially re-arranged from the album this was something of a feature for bassist Hayhurst who laid down an impressive groove before embarking on a solo of great power dexterity underpinned by the chatter and clatter of Calderazzo’s sticks on rims.

“Friday 13th” is a tune by Rahman’s former teacher/mentor Joanne Brackeen. Rahman’s version of the piece appears on the trio’s live album. Described here by Rahman as “quirky” the piece has a strong theme with a stop/start quality that fits Rahman’s description. If the tumbling runs of “The Stride” suggested McCoy Tyner there was hint of Thelonious Monk here but in many ways these comparisons are redundant, Rahman has developed a unique pianistic style of her own that draws on all her influences-jazz, classical and now Bengali. Hayhurst’s huge tone was again featured here in an engaging solo and Calderazzo’s entertaining drum breaks more than matched the quirkiness of Rahman’s own playing. Rahman is an engaging interlocutor between pieces, very English and with a neat line in self deprecating humour. Immaculately groomed and dressed she also looked stunning.

From “Rivers” “Tumi Armai” features a gorgeous melody, the beauty of which Rahman brought out with her solo piano intro. Hayhurst was again featured extensively as a soloist as Calderazzo provided a kind of rolling commentary around him with the use of soft head sticks.

The trio then played a segue of titles commencing with “Abar Elo Je Sondhya” from “Rivers”  which morphed into “Ha Gente Aqui” by the Portugese pianist Mario Laghina and finally another Abdullah Ibrahim that even Zoe couldn’t remember the title of. As in so many of the pieces we heard this evening Rahman started solo at the piano, her playing occasionally alluding to Ibrahim and Keith Jarrett. As Laghina’s tune was introduced the music grew in energy and intensity. It’s a joyous piece with a breakneck theme that in time provided the framework for a typically flamboyant solo from the effervescent Calderazzo. This three tune feast had been something of a tour de force and I thought the band would take a break at this point but in a real value for money performance they squeezed in more tune before the interval.

This proved to be a radical, funky re-working of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing” in an arrangement inspired by the late bassist Ray Brown. Ex pat New Yorker Calderazzo approximated the sound of a beatbox with his drums as Rahman’s block chords crashed around him. Hayhurst took another solo on the bass before Calderazzo took over managing to pick out Ellington’s melody on his drums during the course of his solo. Calderazzo’s other high profile gig is as drummer with jazz rock titans Partisans and the guy is a tightly coiled bundle of energy. His playing here represented a feat of considerable physical resourcefulness after which even he needed a break, and more importantly a cigarette. It had been an impressive first half and clocked in at around the hour mark. The second set was to prove even better.

The trio kicked off their second set with Rahman’s composition “J’Berg” from the album “Melting Pot”. In a tune perhaps inspired by Abdullah Ibrahim Rahman’s piano pushed and probed and there was also a feature from the consistently excellent Hayhurst. As the rhythm section dropped out leaving Rahman to play solo she slyly morphed the piece into the standard “These Foolish Things” which the trio completed with a gospel style closing section.

A rare Stevie Wonder instrumental piece followed, this being “Contusion” from the album “Songs In The Key Of Life”. Calderazzo’s solid backbeat and Hayhurst’s “in the pocket” groove made this a funky delight punctuated by Calderazzo’s explosive drum breaks.

“Mucche Jaoa Dinguli” by the popular Bengali songwriter Hemant Mukherjee added a touch of lyricism to the proceedings. This beautiful tune appears on both the “Melting Pot” and “Live” albums and once more featured Rahman’s solo intro joined eventually by Hayhurst’s bowed bass and Calderazzo’s understated hand drumming. For a player who can really rattle the tubs Calderazzo exhibits an extraordinary degree of sympathy and sophistication when he works with this trio.

Calderazzo himself requested the next tune, Joanne Brackeen’s “Egyptian Dune Dance”, obviously a number that is great fun to play. The trio really took off on this fast moving, knotty piece with great interplay between pianist and drummer. Along the way they nodded in the direction of Eddie Harris’ similarly named “Freedom Jazz Dance”.

“Last Note”, another tune that finds it’s way on to both “Melting Pot” and “Live” concluded the set building from Hayhurst’s solo bass intro through Rahman’s gently nudging piano chords to full on trio pyrotechnics. Another excellent example of the kind of energy levels this trio is able to create the piece was rapturously received by a sell out Edge crowd.

After this an encore was obligatory with the trio returning for a stately reading of Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” prefaced by Rahman’s solo piano intro. Even on this tune Calderazzo found space for a couple of drum breaks.

This concert got the new series of events at The Edge off to a fine start. With the great Tomasz Stanko due to appear next month (November 13th) things are shaping up for a memorable series of jazz events in Much Wenlock, music guaranteed to keep the winter blues at bay.

Thanks to Zoe for taking the trouble to provide me with a set list and to Gene for our now habitual chat afterwards. Here’s to the next time.

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