Aziza Mustafa Zadeh: Body and Soul and Mugam!
Vaghif had a symbiotic relationship with his wife – and especially – with his then-young daughter Aziza, who carries on the monumental task of fusing the dialect of mugam with that of contemporary jazz. The language of love, spoken with (the) sonic emotion of mugam and cast in the dialect of jazz almost unified them spiritually, even as Aziza was growing up. His almost mystic musical abilities had a deep effect on the child. Aziza, speaking to the Ms. Betty Blair (reprinted from Azerbaijan International magazine – Winter, 1996 (4.4) narrates an incident in her childhood. It forms a memorable illustration of how the sonic emotion of mugam became the well-spring of her life: “Once, my father was improvising at the piano, playing in the mugam mode known as ‘shur’, which creates a mood that evokes very deep, sad emotions. As my father was playing, I started to cry. Everyone wondered what was happening to me. Why was I crying? And then my mother realized the correlation between my feelings and the music. ‘Vaghif, please,’ she told my father, ‘Change the scale... Go to ‘rast’’, which he did. Now ‘rast’ (Another mugam) is characterized by its joyfulness and optimism. And sure enough, with tears still running down my cheeks, I started to make dance-like movements! And Mom pointed out, “Look! Look what she is doing! Change back to ‘shur’! And when he did, I started crying even louder than ever before. ‘Back to ‘rast’, Vaghif’... and I began dancing again!”
Just how deeply the genius of her father, the Azeri tradition of mugam and her own ferocious talent – and grasp of every mugam and element of jazz – have come to meld into the soul of Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, like the spell of an ancient druid in a ‘Bird-like skin, is evident from the first notes of her very first eponymous album, Aziza. This was no tentative ‘first step ahead’, but a full-blown record of an artist who had arrived and was speaking in her own ‘Aziza-idiom’, where mugami form and emotion flowed like hot metal into cascades of classic, avant-garde and Parkeriana!
In 1993, Columbia released Always , where Aziza was accompanied by then Chick Corea alumni, Dave Weckl (drums) and the irrepressible John Patitucci (bass). The album roared through Europe, dazzling listeners and wowing critics. It was awarded the ECHO prize from the German Gramaphone Association. Was the album pure breathtaking jazz? Never quite so. Aziza can never be put into a singular groove. She had already lit up the sky with her otherworldly interpretation of mugam, appropriated to the landscape of jazz! Azeri mugami harmalodics buffeted with the clash and crash of Weckl’s percussion pyrotechnoques and the deeply resonant pedal-point and ostinato of Patitucci’s bass. Mugam-jazz-harmolodia was born at the slender hands of the soulful Azeri pianist.
Then Columbia (Bless their souls!) released Dance of Fire two years later. On this spectacular album, Aziza came into interstellar space, surrounded by such luminaries as Al DiMeola (guitars), Omar Hakim (percussion), Kai E. Karpeh de Carmago (bass guitar), Stanley Clarke (acoustic and electric bass and –an inspired choice and performance from the breathtaking Bill Evans (saxophones). Now we heard a definitive, new musical voice. With her pianistic genius and command of expression, complete mastery of the mugam elements – both classic and folk – and watched over by the spirit of her now-almost sanctified father, Vaghif, she further stated the expected-unexpected: That the Woman from Baku had arrived to torch things up with her unique and as yet unheard offering of body+soul+mugami! Dance of Fire was not simply an album – as audiences across Germany and, later, all of Europe was to discover, during April and May of 1991. The album turned a new ascendant path! It was a tinderbox of music exploding with the dazzling display akin to the fireworks celebrating millennia in a state of beautiful flux! The twists and turns of the music bolting between earthy funk and playful coquetries proved to be a blazing hit. With DiMeola and Clarke providing a full-bodied string section, while she brought a distinctive Moorish tinge to her voice. And sang, she did – scat melting into the mugami emotions and modes. The result was pure witchcraft (in the most adorable kind of way, of course! Vocally, at any rate – not since Flora Purim, that other spectacular Brasilian vocalistics star, had an artiste (Aziza) been able to carry off the almost entire gamut of human emotions and feelings!