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Eldar Djangirov is a remarkable pianist, one with phenomenal technique and a quick mind. Now 33, he began playing piano when he was just 3, performed at festivals in the Soviet Union when he was 9 and, after moving with his family to Kansas City, Missouri, appeared on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz at age 12. Djangirov has been a major force on the jazz scene since he turned 18, and Rhapsodize is at least his 10th album as a leader.
To say that Rhapsodize is a high-energy affair is an understatement. Djangirov, who is teamed with bassist Raviv Markovitz and drummer Jimmy MacBride, begins the program with a powerhouse version of “A Night in Tunisia.” One cannot imagine Dizzy Gillespie sounding comfortable at this rapid pace, but Djangirov almost makes it sound natural. That performance serves as a warmup for the pianist’s dramatic “Airport” and the intense “Anthemic,” both of which are unrelenting in their passion. While his power and command of his instrument are admirable, it is a bit of a relief when Djangirov calms things down on “Willow Weep for Me.” He allows the ballad standard to breathe during his relatively melodic version, even when he throws in some runs worthy of Art Tatum.
The hard-driving “Burn” and “Black Hole Sun” (which recalls McCoy Tyner in spots) raise the temperature again. “Variations on a Bach Prelude” is an explosive showcase that succeeds due to the strong Bach melody, which gives the pianist a strong foundation to work off of. The moody ballad “In July” and three other energetic originals conclude the set.
Djangirov sounds better on the more familiar material than on his episodic originals, although one cannot deny his virtuosity. Overall, the album would benefit from a greater variation of moods. — Scott Yanow
Featured photo by David Patino.