Zoe Rahman: Kindred Spirits
Holy soul food, Batman! It feels good to listen to a musician who plays from the heart rather than the brain. Not that British pianist Zoe Rahman is deficient in the grey stuff or technique. She studied music at Oxford University, the Royal Academy of Music and Berklee; once, twice, three times an alumnus. But when Rahman is seated at the keyboard, and her band kicks in, it is her exuberant spirit that she channels, not her learning. That, anyway, is how it sounds.
Kindred Spirits, recorded in spring 2011, is Rahman's fifth album, and like its predecessors it makes the world seem, for a precious while, a better place. Her last disc, Zoe Rahman Trio Live (Manushi, 2009) was recorded in spring 2007. Rahman has since been busy in other people's bands, which may explain why four years passed before she went back into the studio under her own name again.
In the intervening period, Rahman toured extensively with Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra, bringing Sun Ra to a new audience. She also worked with bands led by bassist Danny Thompson, exploring the legacy of British songwriter Nick Drake; singer Martha Wainwright; and saxophonist Courtney Pine, who guests on one track on Kindred Spirits. This diversity of interest is reflected in Rahman's own albums. Where Rivers Meet (Manushi, 2008) celebrated the musical heritage of her father on a dozen tunes written by Bengali composers including Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Along with shots of funk and Irish traditional music, Bengali music is one of the strands that is heard on Kindred Spirits, which includes Tagore's "Forbiddance," "My Heart Dances, Like a Peacock, It Dances" and "Imagination." But, like Zoe Rahman Trio Live before it, Kindred Spirits is fundamentally jazz-based. One difference is that, on the new album, Rahman wrote over half of the tracks.
On Live, Rahman contributed only one tune, with the covers including a pair apiece from Abdullah Ibrahim and JoAnne Brackeen. Ibrahim is a player who readily comes to mind when listening to Rahman, and he does so on Kindred Spirits' opening track, the gospel/funk cross "Down to Earth," and later on "Maya" and "Rise Above." Echoes of Brackeen are heard in the more chromatic "Outside in." Of the covers, in addition to the Tagore tunes, there are versions of the Irish jig "Butlers of Glen Avenue" (wild, wild, wild) and Stevie Wonder's "Contusion," from his Songs in the Key of Life (Motown, 1976).
All these seemingly disparate sources are winningly conflated by Rahman, supported by bassist Oli Hayhurst's and drummer Gene Calderazzo's sinewy swing. Pine, on alto flute, and Rahman's brother, Idris, on clarinet and bass clarinet, are between them heard on five tracks. The group, its core members a unit for over half a decade now, is as tight as you like.
It all adds up to another bliss infusion.
Tracks: Down to Earth; Conversation with Nellie; Maya; Forbiddance/My Heart Dances, Like a Peacock, It Dances; Butlers of Glen Avenue; Outside in; Imagination; Rise Above; Fly in the Ointment: Contusion.
Personnel: Zoe Rahman: piano, harmonium (5); Idris Rahman: clarinet (3-5), bass clarinet (7); Courtney Pine: alto flute (2); Oli Hayhurst: double bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums.