Zoe Rahman, 24th March 2017

One of the delights of seeing Zoe Rahman perform with her band is to witness her alertness and responsiveness to fellow band members: clearly, she is in her element by surprising (or perhaps, being surprised by) fellow musicians—and much of the fun is seeing and hearing this added element to collective jazz improvisation. So, it was intriguing to wonder how she would go about two hours of solo performing. Her mastery of the piano was never in question, of course, but two sets of unsupported creativity is a stern test of creativity, programming and sheer stamina. This was a triumphant performance – deeply musical, technically stunning and quite beautiful.

But for this performance, Zoe Rahman also conjured something additional—and quite unusual: a certain intimacy. This is not because the music was slow or hushed—indeed, nearly every number was infused with powerful, dynamic passages—but all had a certain focused intensity, so the experience was much as though we were eavesdropping on lines of musical thought that she was articulating in the moment. Before long, it became clear that she was wholly absorbed in creativity of a high order. Being witness to this felt like a privilege.

The ease, grace and charm of her presentations—a manner that ‘stagecraft’ doesn’t capture—added to that sense that the audience was in on something very special.

There were too many marvels to list, but perhaps the chief one is that the astonishing range of techniques deployed were in the service of songs that never lost their coherence or sense of direction, however many brilliant harmonic and melodic detours she took. Short of reviewing every number, suffice to say that however one responds to music, these performances accommodated every form of attentiveness, reflection, deep pleasure and sheer excitement. Toward the end of the second set, Zoe finished a particularly exultant but demanding number with the words, ‘That was hard!’ We were all surprised it was possible. If you want to hear better solo piano than this, you’ll probably have to wait until Zoe Rahman visits Wakefield Jazz again. And so say all of us.

© J. Whitman

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