By Jean-Claude Elias
AMMAN - Jazz, with its infinite palette, can surprise the most blas listener. Aziza Mustafa Zadeh hails from Baku, Azerbaijan, plays an innovative form of jazz and is beyond any doubt one of the most inventive artists alive. I was recently given two of her CDs by a friend in music. The impact on me was the equivalent of an electroshock, an immense surprise - in many a way I found the discs to be superlative, exceptional jazz music.
Zadeh brilliantly succeeds where many fail, which is to truly bridge different cultures to create one authentic new form, one that has its own identity. The Oriental sounds and magams (modes) of Azerbaijan blend naturally with modern jazz structures and rhythms under the fingers of the pianist. Whereas most other similar attempts end up sounding artificial, sterile or cheaply commercial, she manages to make music genuinely inspired. Hers are compositions that elevate one's spirit to higher highs.
Listen to Always" and its charming Oriental theme that is smartly laid inside a fusion-jazz composition driven at a devilishly fast tempo, or to the slower Crying Earth" with its exquisite, impressionistic arpeggios la Claude Debussy. Technically, speaking Jazziza (her nickname and the trade name of her record company) also is an impressive piano virtuoso, able to play unbelievably difficult, complex pieces. She also uses her soprano voice to sing beautiful Azeri melodies while accompanying herself on the piano.
Born to a musical family Zadeh is classical trained and, as a young prodigy, has sailed through the repertoire of Frederic Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach. She was also less than 10 when she showed a particular talent for improvisation. On some pieces the beneficial influence on her works of classical music can clearly be heard.
Contrasts" is a CD she recorded in 2006 and that is more classically inspired than her earlier albums. Some of the tracks however, like Stars Dance" constitute superb piano-plus-vocal pieces based on Azeri folk themes. In that she reminds us of the great Bela Bartok and his intelligent use of one's native folk themes in more elaborate forms of composition. Other pieces have attractive titles like Egocentric Bumble-bee", done on the famous theme by Nicolas Rimsky-Korsakov, or Dreaming Sheherazadeh".
Her latest CD, Contrasts II - Jazzopera" was out last July on the occasion of Mainz Festival in Germany and remains only available through her official German website for now. It contains a stunning rendition of Mozart's aria The Queen of the Night" from the Magic Flute" opera that was sung only a few days ago in concert in Amman by Jordanian soprano Dima Bawab. It also features other new pieces inspired or based on classical material from Bach, such as Bachmania" for instance or Mozart Jazz Ballad". The CD lets Jazziza demonstrate her equally impressive singing skills, though before all it is her compositions and her improvisational and pianistic skills that really stand out.
Whereas avant-garde often is synonym of mere, cold experimentation, Zadeh is avant-garde with flair, depth, emotion and authentic musicality. She lives and works on a fine canvas made of Azeri folkloric themes, jazz and classical music.
The artist resides in Germany where she works and does most of her recordings. There they call her the princess of jazz" - quite rightly.