Even a quick listen to Eldar Djangirov’s blistering new track “Point of View Redux” (download it for free at
) may send you back into the practice room indefinitely! One of 11 infectious songs
on his new jazz release Breakthrough
(Djangirov has a brand new classical album out entitled
as well), the track is an eight-minute snapshot of a prodigious pianist
with a near complete keyboard command. Featuring everything from
rumbling bass ostinatos, breakneck piano
runs, and near telepathic band interplay, “Point of View Redux” is a
fitting opener to an album that constantly surprises. On the eve of a
string of East Coast performances to celebrate the album’s release, Eldar
spoke with me via phone to talk about his continuing
Your new album
is your first jazz trio album in over three years. Can you talk about
the process of writing and recording for this new project? Well, since we last met in 2009 after I had recorded the trio album
Virtue and the solo album
Three Stories, I’ve had the chance to study, develop, travel and
write more. So this particular album is definitely a continuation of
that journey. It’s a bit of a growth from the last record, but there are
a lot of the same musical priorities.
album opens with “Point of View Redux,” a track that seems to
encapsulate your expansive pianistic persona. You’re able to conjure a
myriad of sounds from the
instrument, from roaring bass register vamps to cascading right hand
lines and beyond.
Yeah. There’s also another element that’s less talked about but equally, if not more important, which is
ability to control dynamics, time and touch can make music sound
distinct and undeniably right. I strive for a consistency and evenness
in my piano sound. I think that’s something that
listeners will be able to recognize in my playing. So the presentation
of the music is as important as the content. If you transcribed that
song and gave the exact same notes to another piano player, it’s not
going to sound the same because every musician
The new album
second outing alongside your working band of bassist Armando Gola and
drummer Ludwig Afonso. How has the band evolved since your last time in
the studio together?
We’ve certainly changed over
the years. As a unit, I feel we play better today than we have ever
played. There’s definitely been an improvement because we listen to each
other in a different way. It’s almost as if
the three of us are in a boat, and the boat is rocking from left to
right. Our job is to stabilize and try to support each other so we
almost sound like one instrument.
of View Redux” is actually a re-imagination of a track from another
album of yours. How did you go about re-inventing it here?
I wrote that particular tune for the late, great saxophonist Michael Brecker to play on my album
2005. When he passed away, I wanted to write something as a tribute to
him, because working with him meant a lot to me. So I decided to rework
that tune. I took the dramatic elements from
it and did a reinvention of it. And that’s exactly what it is. There’s a
musical development to it, and a human one as well, since it’s a
tribute to Michael.
When we spoke after you recorded your last trio album
Virtue, you told me that you do something different than a lot of other composers and bandleaders, which is to tour new music
before you go into record it, rather than record an album and then take it on the road. Did you do that again on
Yes. Pretty much 90 percent of this
record has been toured before we recorded it. We would integrate new
tunes into our concerts as they were written, and the project evolved
from there. I don’t like to write things in the
studio – it’s too expensive!
I like to prepare music and work at it at home, so when we go into the
studio it’s just a performance. I’ll often stay on one tune in the
studio, so for example, we’ll
play a track down and then I’ll immediately go listen to it. If I like
it, I’ll keep certain things, and if not, I’ll go do another take. I
really want to get something I’m happy with. That way when the record’s
done, I can put it on and truly enjoy it.
What was the inspiration behind the title
Breakthrough for the new album?
Well, besides it being the
name of the title track that features saxophonist Chris Potter, I
feel like as a musician, you always want to reach for certain heights.
For me, everything begins as an experiment. It’s
easy to get to a point where you’re just coasting on
autopilot, playing things that you’ve already learned. But I like
to learn new things and learn them well. So I spent a lot of time
meticulously learning new things for this project.
What kinds of things were you learning?
I was writing more, and I was
also learning quite a lot from classical music, as I also have a new
solo classical piano album that just came out called
I’ve always felt that when you actually read great musical texts, you
understand what great melodic and harmonic development is. Great music
has an inherent sense of
logic to it -
there’s logic to the melody as an idea builds and expands towards a
climax. And there are certain harmonic resolutions that also impact
human emotion. Learning about these devices not
only enriches your musical vocabulary – it also helps create music that
can impact other human beings.
Besides classical music, what other kinds of music did you listen to and play while preparing to record the new album?
It was a wide range of
things. I was listening to a lot of Billie Holiday
and was tremendously taken with how she could phrase ideas. That was a
huge point of interest for me, and I ended-up recording
the song “Good Morning Heartache,” which she recorded as well. I was
especially intrigued by how she sang ballads, and that propelled me to
look through the repertoire of ballads when I was looking for material
for the album. I wanted to record a jazz standard,
but not something that was done too often. That’s how I ended-up
choosing the tune “What’ll I Do” by Irving Berlin. It has a beautiful
melody and really spoke to me.
someone who’s known for having a great deal of technical facility at
the keyboard. What do you having that kind of technique allows you to
Technical command is a
default attribute after a musician spends time learning their
instrument. So is melodic and harmonic understanding, as well as having a
command of time and being able to execute ideas fluidly
in it. There was never a time that I spent endlessly practicing Hanon
exercises for hours on end. Never. My technical ability just comes from
the sheer amount of time I have spent at the instrument
from the standards I learned as a kid, to playing Bach or learning
scales, or learning new compositions. I think it’s important that people
understand that this kind of technical facility
is simply a default attribute of spending time at the instrument.
Sometimes you’ll hear someone say, “This musician has tremendous technical ability, but this other musician has
I think that’s totally subjective. I’ve always been a student of music,
a student of the piano, and I genuinely enjoy playing the instrument
and connecting with people. I care about the
music I play, and I want to enjoy it as much as I want other people to
enjoy it. For me, everything comes from a place of passion and respect
for the music.