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Bojan Z at Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin

Ian Patterson By

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Bojan Z
Hugh Lane Gallery
Dublin, Ireland
September 4, 2016

It's been ten years since All About Jazz last encountered Bojan Z in a live solo context, in Cambodia, where the France-based, Serbian pianist gave a riveting performance that drew heavily from Solobsession (Label Bleu, 2000). Although often playing in a solo context, it took Z another dozen years to record another solo album, the exquisite Soul Shelter (Emarcy, 2012). This concert, an Improvised Music Company production, in Dublin's historic Hugh Lane Gallery, sees the pianist explore the melodic and rhythmic nooks and crannies of the latter release, with all his customary rootsy passion and élan.

The one—hour set starts with "Full Half Moon," a number of quasi orchestral scope. Facing the piano standing, Z raps a percussive refrain on the piano's lid with his left hand, conjuring a North African or perhaps Middle Eastern frame drum rhythm, while his right hand teases out a melody that flirts with baroque and Balkan veins. Z's rhythmic pistons and flowing melodicism are soon in full flight in a charged passage of dense, bold colors. However, barrelling energy and deft lyricism are constant dualities in the pianist's vocabulary and he gradually steers the tune back into more delicate terrain.

The neo-classical-cum-folkloric refinement of "Sweet Shelter of Mine" seduces melodically at first, before scaling more complex harmonic and rhythmic heights, with Z's hands engaged in animated conversation. Here, as in all Z's compositions, a strong narrative arc is at work, the climactic mid-section dissolving into impressionistic reverie, like the embers of distant memory. The pianist fires up the engine again on the dashing "Bohemska," a breathless, scurrying tribute to Nomadic peoples.

A musical nomad himself, Z's musical tapestry is woven from the colorful threads of classicism, diverse folk traditions, blues and a hefty swathe of jazz's piano history. A little of all of these infuses "Dad's Favorite," a Hungarian waltz by way of Franz Liszt and Oscar Peterson. A lot of Z's wide-reaching musical palette is owed to the influence of Don Cherry, to whom the pianist pays homage on "Multi Don Kulti," an expansive, rhapsodic journey of unrelenting passion, crowned with dramatic flourish.

"Uci me majko, karaj me" a slower paced, brooding mediation follows, Z's gently rolling left-hand vamp underpinning striking melodic lines that border, at times, on the dissonant. At whatever tempi, Z's playing is inherently playful, notably so on the dancing "Sizhuit Forever," with its contrasts between light and heavy shading; here, Z takes complex folkloric rhythms as his starting point, weaving pop melodicism and contemporary piano experimentalism into the mix.

Z's gently strolling, blues-inflected rendition of Duke Ellington's 1948 tune "On a Turquoise Cloud" closes a fine performance on an elegant note. At one end of the Hugh Lane Gallery, in direct line with the piano, is a painting by Mainie Jellett (1897—1944), an important figure in Irish modernism, born just two years before Ellington. "My aim was to search into the inner rhythms and constructions of natural forms, " wrote Jellett, "to create on their pattern; to make a work of art a natural creation complete in itself, based on eternal laws of balanced harmony and ordered movement. I sought the inner principle and not the outward appearance."

Like Jellett, Bojan Z seeks the inner rhythms, from wherever they hail. He follows eternal musical laws of harmony, balance and ordered movement, creating a very personal, multi-cultural soundscape in the process. Jazz meets World or roots music? Whatever the nomenclature, invention and absolute sincerity are the cornerstones of his art. Like Jellett, and Ellington and Cherry, for Zulfikarpasic too, the inner principle is everything.

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