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Virtue is Eldar's fourth albumhis sixth, if his early independent releases are includedsomething of an achievement for a musician who was only 22 years old at the time of the album's release. The album further affirms the Kyrgyzstan-born, New York-based musician's deserved reputation for technical ability. Across the 11 tracks Eldar shows speed and virtuosityon one or two ballads there are also welcome signs of a developing awareness of the impact of space and silence.
Throughout the album, the young pianist is provided with swinging support from bassist Armando Gola and drummer Ludwig Afonso. Their playing is crucial, providing a strong jazz sensibility and balancing out Eldar's tendency at times to move more towards a classical style of playing. "Estate" is an example of the effectiveness of this support. The tune, featuring Eldar on piano with simple but effective backing from the rhythm section, is beautiful. A slow and delicate piece, it enables Eldar to show that he has the feel for the emotions of a tune and there is a notable absence of complex runs or chord patterns. Another ballad, "Iris," again showcases Eldar's ability to play delicate and affecting patterns and features a warm bass solo from Gola.
By contrast, Eldar's faster numbers are performed with technical virtuosity very much in mind and there is a lack of memorable hooks or melodies. These are performances to be admired, undoubtedly, but they create nods of approval rather than smiles of pleasure. Strong guest appearances by Joshua Redman and others help to add color to the tunes, but when Eldar moves from acoustic piano to electronic keyboards the problem seems magnifiedthe album starts to sound as if it has been influenced by some of the worst excesses of progressive rock and fusion.
Such criticisms may seem churlish in the face of such obvious talent, but jazz is as much about engaging the emotions and experiences as it is displaying virtuosity. Many great players make this connection without Eldar's technical prowess; when he is able to achieve this engagement in addition to his technical skill he will be a genuine force with which to be reckoned.
Track Listing: Exposition; Insensitive; Blues Sketch in Clave; Iris; The Exorcist; Lullaby Fantazia; Blackjack; Long Passage; Estate; Daily Living; Vanilla Sky.
Personnel: Eldar: piano, keyboards; Armando Gola: bass; Ludwig Afonso: drums; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Joshua Redman: saxophone; Felipe Lamoglia: saxophone.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.