Zoe Rahman was most recently heard on disc, as leader, with the enchanting Where Rivers Meet
(Manushi, 2008), in which the British-born pianist explored her Bengali father's musical heritage. The core band for that album included Zoe's clarinetist brother, Idris, and her regular bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo, an American who's long been resident in London. The same quartet is featured on Live with special guest Idris Rahman
, with Idris guesting on two tracks.
Live was recorded at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club in April 2007, a month before the sessions for Where Rivers Meet, and a hint of what was to come is given on Bengali composer Hemant Mukherjee's exquisitely pretty "Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli," featuring Idris. The tune was previously recorded on Zoe's otherwise straight-ahead, Mercury Music Prize-nominated album, Melting Pot (Manushi, 2005).
A technically gifted player who studied at Berklee College of Music, where one of her tutors was Joanne Brackeen, Zoe is an unusually empathetic musician. She inhabits a broad range of material, from bop to Bengali, with an ease verging on osmosis, getting deep inside each tune and investing her improvisation with its particular character, rather than simply using its changes as the basis for a more or less unrelated solo. She describes herself as culturally "very English," yet sounds like she has been playing Bengali music all her life (she hasn't), and is equally at home on Live with two twitchy Brackeen tunes, "Friday 13th" and "Epyptian Tune Dance," Abdullah Ibrahim's rhapsodic "The Stride" and dramatic "Tuang Guru," Phineas Newborn's funky "Harlem Blues" and the sunny vibe of Portugese composer Mario Laginha's "Ha Gente Aqui."
This musical shape-shiftingfrom the pastoral and intimate, as on "Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli," to the explosive and dissonant, as on the two Brackeens and her own "Last Note" (another tune from Melting Pot)makes Rahman an unusually well rounded stylist and improviser. She is, typically, a big, energetic and exuberant player, with a penchant for cascading, harp-like, Alice Coltrane-ish cadenzas. (She also recently proved herself to be a seriously funky electric keyboardist, guesting on the 2009 Manushi release One More Reason, made by the Soothsayers, the genre-mashing south London band co-led by Idris).
Hard swinging and outgoing, Live is an infectious goodtime album and provides a valuable record of where the Zoe Rahman Trio was at in early 2007. The story, engrossing so far, promises to travel a lot further.