When Eldar Djangirov first arrived in America from his native Kyrgyzstan he had yet to reach his teens. A wunderkind who’d begun working a piano at 3, he was playing back solos learned by ear from jazz records at 5 and was then given classical training by his piano teacher mother. Now, at the ripe old age of 26, a U.S. resident since the ’90s, Djangirov (who formerly performed under his first name only) has released two albums simultaneously, one with his jazz trio, the other a solo classical recording. Both are equally rewarding, for different reasons.
Reviewers have often touted Djangirov’s rapid-fire note flurries, his near-grandiose outpourings and his general predilection toward big statements, but on Breakthrough those elements have been toned down somewhat in favor of a more measured, lyrical approach. Mixing standards, originals and one Radiohead cover (“Morning Bell”), Djangirov still likes to strut and gloat, but overall he seems to have learned that there’s more to connecting with a listener than chasing his own tail around the keyboard. “In Pursuit,” one of the originals, has that Art Tatum/Oscar Peterson feel that is a hallmark of Djangirov’s style, but he knows just when to step back and cede the floor to his quite capable support team of bassist Armando Gola and drummer Ludwig Afonso. Guest spots by Chris Potter (tenor saxophone on the title track) and Joe Locke (vibes on “Blink”) suggest new complexities in Djangirov’s compositions, the former bordering on fusion and the latter crossing a Latin piano line with a tough postbop drive.
Bach/Brahms/Prokofiev, as its no-frills title suggests, is a pure solo-piano classical music outing, bearing virtually no hint of Djangirov’s other life as a jazz musician. What’s most striking about it, however, is the sensitivity he achieves on so much of the recording, particularly the Brahms “Eight Piano Pieces, Op. 76” section. As aggressive and progressive as his jazz work often is, here he reveals a side of his musical personality in which he’s more than willing to serve the composition rather than have it serve him. Although he’s come a long way in a short time, the jazz Djangirov can still use a few lessons from his classical doppelganger.