Like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Eldar Djanjirov lives up to and exceeds the hype, which means that it isn’t hype but the improbable truth. Why improbable? Because, few - if any, pianists can play with the speed that Eldar can. Fewer still can play nuanced, emotion packed music at that speed. And no one living has put it all together at such a young age with the promise of a long and very brilliant career.
That said, the concert was magnificent for still more reasons. Eldar has put together a trio with bassist Jeffery Chambers and percussionist Andrew Fockel. Chambers is a bassist of extraordinary talent. His playing is inspired and he and Eldar have a musical stage relationship that borders on paranormal. Plus they look like they are having so much fun that it is infectious and all three musicians played the whole set with big smiles. Andrew Fockel played very well, but his role required keeping his drums in check, partly I think because of the small venue and mostly because it was appropriate to the arrangements. Andrew had one solo which again was restrained but very attractive and I am certain I will enjoy hearing more from him.
The venue, Founder's Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, is perfect for jazz concerts. The acoustics are grand, the hall seats only about 200 jazz fans. While beverages are served there is no food served, so you don't get to watch a server's back during the most amazing solo of the night. It is a little pricey but I feel it is really worth the money. I have seen over a dozen shows here and never been disappointed.
In addition to great sidemen and a choice venue, Eldar also chose some great music for the approximately seventy minute set.
Caravan Duke Ellington Eldar and the trio came out and spent about thirty seconds warming up and then attacked this masterpiece. I was sitting about ten feet behind Eldar and was able to watch him virtually dance at the piano. His head moves, his back moves; he is a very physical player. I was not able to see Eldar’s hands when he played immediately in front of his body, but when he played to both sides, which was often, I could watch his hands. Not only is he so fast that his hands occasionally blur, I could see him strike individual keys and two or three more before the first key came back to neutral position. He also plays with a crisp clean precision that would be difficult at half the speeds Eldar achieves. It must also be said that he is not just fast for the sake of being fast, he is appropriately fast for the arrangements.
The order of the pieces played after caravan was as follows Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk; Armando’s Rumba by Chick Correa; Raindrops, an original piece by Eldar Djanjirov; Dat Dere by Bobby Timmons.
Then the trio came upon Fly Me to the Moon by Bart Howard. This may well have been the highlight of an exceptionally high level show. I think the arrangement lasted for about fifteen minutes and in the middle Jeffery Chambers played a bass solo that was flat out awesome. It lasted about five minutes and was a demonstration of how to use the bass as a melodic instrument. The solo was so awe inspiring that I would be willing to buy that solo as the only piece of music on a CD, even at today’s stiff prices. Eldar and Andrew held up their ends around this remarkable solo.
The last piece of the set was What is This Thing Called Love by Cole Porter it was here that Andrew had the opportunity for his solo, which as I said leaves me hoping I’ll hear a lot more.
From what I had heard, I was expecting a smallish lad who would speak to us if at all through an interpreter. Instead Eldar is tall, good looking kid with a Midwestern accent and more than enough charm to go around. He was dressed in a brown shirt and slacks and put me in mind of your average high school senior. He took the time to explain how to pronounce his name, first syllable "dan", second like "gear", last like "off", Dangeeroff. He then told us that there were CDs for sale in the lobby, several times actually, like he was selling raffle tickets for the school dance. And I think it worked because I had to wait in line to buy both of them.