Leading Azerbaijani jazz pianist Emil Afrasiyab wowed jazz fans and critics alike with his barnstorming performance at this year's Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés. His appearance was sponsored by the French office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS).Leading Azerbaijani jazz pianist Emil Afrasiyab has dazzled 380 jazz aficionados in Paris with his dexterity and innovation on the second night of the prestigious 15th Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés. On 29 May, the audience included H.E. Elchin Amirbayov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to France; bass guitarist Kyle Eastwood, son of legendary film star Clint; author Michel Contat, a leading literary and jazz critic; and Alain Kassimatis, the renowned jazz producer. The French office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) sponsored the concert, having done so at the previous edition of the festival, when the spotlight was directed towards pianist Isfar Sarabski.
Born in Baku in 1982, Emil is a major artist amongst the new generation of Azerbaijani jazz performers. He specialises in the synthesis of jazz with Azerbaijani mugham, both of which feature a high degree of improvisation and provide great scope for personal expression. His work is notable for its contrasts in intonation, and fluctuating harmonics and rhythms, more commonly found in classical music.
The set began with Emil’s self-penned 'Two Worlds'. After a delicate and rhapsodic solo introduction, Emil increased the tempo, running up and down the piano keyboard, his music incorporating the Eastern harmonies and microtones found in mugham, being carried along by the propulsive polyrhythmic drumming of Raphaël Pannier. The improvisations even included a brief nod to J.S. Bach and his 'Air on the G String'.
This was followed by a version of Azerbaijani jazz-mugham pioneer Vagif Mustafzadeh’s 'March', which included Alexandre Madeline on tenor saxophone. This began with Emil’s rhapsodic introduction, after which Coltrane disciple Alexandre gave an exploration of the main theme prior to its deconstruction. Emil and Raphaël then took up the challenge, daring each other on to more tangential improvisations. Emil held the transfixed audience in reverent silence following his delicate conclusion to the piece.
Emil then performed 'Aziza', his own composition, dedicated to Vagif Mustafazadeh’s daughter of the same name, who is renowned as a jazz singer/pianist in her own right. The tempo of this piece gradually speeded to dizzying levels, and provided Raphaël with the chance to demonstrate his full range of percussive techniques. Emil regards all musicians in his quartet as equals, his piano remaining silent as Raphaël and bass guitarist Antoine Katz coaxed each other into new, unchartered waters of improvisation. Emil then returned, upping the tempo to an exciting and devastating level. As he wiped the perspiration from his brow, the rapturous audience shouted “Bravo”, hoping for another piece.
They were rewarded with variations on the main theme of the Azerbaijani traditional dance 'Shalakho', written in the challenging time signature of 6/8. This saw Alexandre’s saxophone take on the role of the traditional balaban flute, before wildly entering the realms of free jazz and call-and-response dialogue with the percussion of Raphaël.
Initially, Emil’s pianistic skills were solely heard in the borders of his home country. However, this changed in 2011, when he received the Public Prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and in 2012 he went to study performance and composition at the Berklee College of Music in the US, where he now resides.
The second half of the concert comprised a performance by the septuagenarian jazz-rock pioneer Aldo Romano and the other members of his trio.
The concert came in the middle of a three-date French festival tour by Emil’s quartet that began on 27 May with a performance at the inaugural Sunnyside Festival in Reims, attended by around 150 people, including Pascal Labelle, Deputy Mayor of Reims in charge of Culture and Ayaz Gojayev, Cultural Advisor to the Azerbaijani Embassy in France. The tour will conclude on 7 September with the opening concert of the Colmar Jazz Festival. TEAS France is sponsoring Emil’s participation in all three festivals.
To see and hear Emil performing Aziza at the 2013 Baku International Jazz Festival, go to http://bit.ly/emilaziza.