Live Review: Zoe Rahman

An intimate and elegant evening by the fusion jazz pianist

Posted: 21.02.15

Wednesday 4th February 2015

St James Theatre

by Lubjana Matin-Scammell

When two cultures from the East and West meet they are too often depicted in a clash of colliding cultures with further ongoing friction. Music, on the other hand is the art form where this dichotomy brings something fresh and fluid, a new perspective and to put it using appropriate terms, it brings perfect harmony.

 Zoe Rahman's music is an amalgamation of many influences, especially her mixed heritage with a Bengali father and mother of English and Irish heritage. She is a classically trained international pianist and composer, well renowned as a contemporary Jazz musician who has a Mercury Prize nomination and a MOBO amongst her numerous accolades. Her musical education stretches from the Royal Academy of Music, Oxford University and a scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

 Rahman's live performance track record is impressive. She has toured and performed widely from London's Jazz Pizza Express, Ronnie Scott’s, The Queen Elizabeth Hall to international venues including The Lincoln Centre in New York and The Sydney Opera House.  As well as this, she gives back to the city she lives in and has taught for a long time in schools teaching piano to school children.

So what should you expect at a Zoe Rahman jazz gig? The most distinguishable quality is how approachable she is and how Rahman makes her listeners feel at ease. The St James Theatre is an intimate space with lots of ambience and makes an ideal Jazz venue. Her audience consists of an eclectic range of regular jazz connoisseurs and those who simply enjoy the pleasure of live acoustic music. Rahman can be found mingling near the front, chatting to the audience and this informal manner continues during the evening, giving the audience commentary and background information on the pieces. 

Jazz music is a highly free form, originating from a melting pot of cultures in New Orleans. Perhaps it is Jazz’s tradition which enables Rahman’s seemingly effortless way of capturing the essence of the form. The set is relaxed. She has a very distinct and unique style. Down to Earth is a signature tune which in its title also captures Rahman's down to earth manner. The pulse of the opening bars sets the mood. Conversation with Nellie brings the sounds of Bangladesh folk music. In Forbidden/ My Heart Dances Like A Peacock, It Dances, the simple poignancy of the opening bars comes to life, transforming into an elaborate and grander piece with a very global feel. Rahman’s music connects with the work of Nobel laureate and Bengali artist, poet and composer Rabindranath Tagore. Butlers of Glen Avenue is a happy and energetic Celtic jig. This is robust instrumental music which tells a story.

To those with new Jazz ears, the sounds and rhythm are unpretentious and also offer a perfect introduction to Jazz music. The music is imaginative, cathartic and uplifting. The magic of Jazz music is being able to make it up on the spot. This is also part of the excitement at one of her gigs; uncertainty, free style combination with the band which results in perfection. Surely this is a clear measure of success in a music concert and for the musicians.
Rahman’s albums carry the essence and concoction of different places and elements, her last album entitled Kindred Spirts, a previous two albums echoing similar themes in Where Rivers Meet and Melting Pot. Rahman has her own music label called Manushi and collaborates with her brother the Clarinettist Idris Rahman. As well as on her own albums, the musical siblings feature on the second track on The Rough Guide to the music of India ‘O, River’ (O Nodi Re). However Rahman should not be labelled as world music. She is a powerful and energetic fusion of melodic Jazz. 

Rahman’s rich music is engaging and highly accessible to all. It is not just for those with knowledge of the contemporary Jazz scene or limited to specific audiences. What is often seen as a male dominated genre, she also writes her own music and blends sounds. Rahman is powerful in bringing two worlds together through her music, which makes her even more appealing and desirable for the repertoire. Rahman is hugely refreshing. Her energised live performances are a real treat.

Zoe Rahman is currently touring around the UK:

Dorking (Friends Life Sports and Social Club, Pixham Lane, Dorking, RH4 1QA)
02 April 2015 20:30

Norfolk, Dereham Jazz Society (Lakesdide Country Club, Lying, Norfolk)
15 April 2015 20:00

Leighton Buzzard (Music Club)
18 April 2015 20:00
Trio with Alec Dankworth and Gene Calderazzo

Hebden Bridge (The Waterfront Hall, Hebden Bridge Town Hall  (St George's Street, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire HX7 7BY)
19 April 2015 16:00
Solo Piano

Leicester (Embrace Arts Lancaster Road, Leicester LE1 7HA)
19 June 2015 20:00

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