You can't really blame the media for heaping hype upon the young piano prodigy known simply as Eldar, because his story is pretty remarkable. Eldar grew up in remote Kyrgyzstan, where there are far more goat herders than jazz musicians, but he revealed enough early talent that he attracted both local and international attention. After moving to Kansas City around age ten, he picked up a few admirers like Benny Carter and Dr. Billy Taylor, who contributed liner notes to this, his third release and Sony debut. (He also dropped the last name Djangirov, which tagged his previous D&D efforts, including an earlier recording also called Eldarnot to be confused with the present title.)
And this is a pretty remarkable album. The pianist goes after his music with infectious zeal, preferring a light, sparkling touch (like Tatum or Peterson) and regularly decorating themes with flying runs and trills. He's joined by two sympathetic veterans, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Todd Strait, who have the experience to know how to lend supportive depth without getting in the way. Monk's "Ask Me Now" features Eldar alone on the piano, digging into some quirky rhythms and paying homage to a clear influence; and the original "Point of View" brings in guest tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker for some perky, high-energy acrobatics.
Within seconds after you hit play, a few things immediately become obvious. Eldar has incredible dexterity and precision control over every note; he's able to channel this ability to construct flowing, connected ideas that covey a larger sense of motion; and he's not afraid to let it rip. When things slow down, as they do right away on the second tune, "Nature Boy," his weaknesses become apparent just as quickly. Eldar's playing lacks a certain warmth and respect for space that's more or less required to keep the candles aglow. But I have no doubt that will come with age. This teenager has a lot of years ahead of him in which to grow and expand.
It's hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of Eldar, which shines through in most outrageous fashion on the original "Watermelon Island," a funk/fusion tour de force near the end that ought to get more than a few listeners out of their chairs to shake it on the floor.