Taking a break from research at the Brubeck Institute in the summer of 2003, I sat in on a musicians' clinic Roy Hargrove was conducting for the institute's Summer Jazz Colony set up in honor of Paul Desmond. Desmond was fond of saying that jazz, like writing, can be learned but not taught. Hargrove seemed to agree; he taught by doing, so he whipped up a jam session. Eldar Djangirov, then 16, was the pianist. Hargrove seemed surprised by the quality of comping coming from the boy's hands. When Djangirov soloed, Hargrove's jaw dropped.
This young man from Kyrgystan has been publicized widely, as child prodigies usually are. Sony gives him one-name billing, like a rock star. Is it all too much, too soon for someone who is, after all, only 18?
Eldar has formidable chops, as a lightning "Sweet Georgia Brown" makes perfectly clear with its clean Tatum-indebted runs and flourishes. His ballad playing on "Nature Boy," "'Round Midnight" and, particularly, his own gentle "Lady Wicks," has sensitivity and a sense of proportion. He does "Moanin'" without resorting to a Bobby Timmons imitation and plays a fine solo on Monk's "Ask Me Now" without once playing in the cracks. His take on "Maiden Voyage," with its intriguing chord voicings and rhythmic patterns, displays his originality. Eldar sounds every bit a peer of his sidemen: bassist John Patitucci, drummer Todd Strait and, on one track, saxophonist Michael Brecker. Given years, sensible guidance from his handlers and luck, this gifted youngster should mature into his enormous artistic potential.