Album Review: Zoe Rahman’s Dreamland

zoe coverThe pianist has a whole orchestra at his or her fingertips – that’s the theory, anyway. And therefore the jazz pianist has the potential to make the unique sound of an orchestra in ‘spontaneous improvisation’ mode.

Duke Ellington was famous for approaching the keyboard in this way, and now Zoe Rahman’s sixth solo album Dreamland demonstrates that she’s thinking along similar lines too.

The MOBO-winning and Mercury-nominated pianist has recently been working mostly in duo format with both bassist George Mraz and saxophonist Courtney Pine, as well as with her regular trio. And though she has performed alone many times, Dreamland is her first album of solo piano.

Despite its quite considerable length, there’s a real consistency of mood here and some canny sequencing makes it almost feel like one long piece of music. It also makes a fascinating counterpoint to another modern Brit piano legend Jason Rebello’s recent solo album, though Dreamland is a decidedly more expansive, impressionistic, less vamp-orientated prospect.

Dreamland‘s pentatonic-flavoured opener ‘Red Squirrel’ (also recently recorded by the NYJO) features some striking left-hand chord voicings and almost collapses in on itself during the intriguing middle free section. ‘Fast Asleep’, ‘For Anais’ and ‘The Epicentre’ feature the kind of ambivalent harmonies and luscious wide-interval chords that characterise Geri Allen’s work.

‘The Sheikh’, composed by Jessica Williams, kicks off with some imaginative string-plucking/muting inside the body of the piano. The other covers – ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Sunset Blue’, ‘A Single Petal Of Roses’ and ‘Kar Milono Chao Birohi’ – also mess with form to intriguing effect, particularly the latter tune.

Zoe recently told Jazzwise: ‘For me, it’s all about the element of surprise, and that’s one of the exciting things about being a piano player – you don’t take your instrument with you.’ Dreamland is definitely the sound of someone getting freshly acquainted with the piano.

Dreamland is out now on Manushi Records.

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