By John Shand
What a bright new force is pianist Zela Margossian. Her debut album, Transition, announced her range and fascination as a composer, splashing her Armenian heritage across the broad canvas of jazz. But whereas the album (as good as it is) felt slightly stifled by a preoccupation with precision, here her music exploded into a more visceral dimension, the fizzing excitement sometimes almost lifting you from your chair.
Perhaps her precocious sophistication (after relatively recently transitioning from classical to improvised music) is partly due to her breadth of life experience. Ceasefire, for instance, celebrates the joy of being able to leave a bunker in Beirut (where she and her family lived) to go up on the street to play during the Lebanese Civil War. Her experiences have also rounded her as a person, so, despite the historical hatred, this Armenian chose to include a Kurdish Turk in her band – and percussionist Adem Yilmaz brings shamanic powers to bear, combining improbable facility with ingenious artistry.
Yet such exceptional musicianship is the norm, shared by Margossian, Stuart Vandegraaff (soprano saxophone, clarinet, ney), Elsen Price (bass) and Alexander Inman-Hislop (drums). The pyrotechnic thrills of odd-time-signature unisons at hurtling velocities were countered by the slow, moody groove of the Armenian traditional Erzerumi Shoror, and the lonely yearning of Vandegraaff’s ney. Gradually the drama and dynamics of this intensified, until Inman-Hislop stormed the foreground with electrifying drumming.
Margossian’s exotic Mystic Flute had Vandergraaff’s clarinet lodged in its lower register, before an arco bass solo so forlorn as might make angels fall from heaven under the weight of their own tears. Yilmaz’s solo cajon on Doume began as softly as if it were approaching from the other side of a hill, while The Child in Me had thrilling dialogues between drums and percussion; soprano and piano.
Yilmaz and Inman-Hislop gave each other space throughout, like two brothers who have learned to share, although Yilmaz could jettison his overused chimes. The traditional Sari Axchik spawned Margossian’s finest work: a solo of muted passion.