In terms of technique and velocity, 22-year-old Eldar Djangirov outstrips just about every other pianist in the world. He's a boy-wonder, educated by staunch Russian piano teachers and turned onto jazz by way of Oscar Peterson. Roughly a decade into his career, Eldar is known for a super-human tendency to play everything as fast as possible. He's aggressive and clean, tackling hard melodies at prestissimo tempos without ever bobbling a phrase. Thus, his pieces often sound virtuosic — or like practice exercises, depending on your point of view. Eldar's 2007 release Re-Imagination kicked off with an absolutely gripping tune called "I Remember When," a series of fast, dense arpeggios locked into a boring harmonic structure. It showed exactly why he has garnered so much attention, and why critics accuse him of not playing jazz.

This year's Virtue marks a new direction. With ten original tunes (eight credited to Eldar) and one standard, it's a lot more substantive than his previous material. He doesn't quite swing, but he finally finds value in the space between notes. Moreover, his rhythms and harmonies are a lot more complex than before. On "Insensitive," Eldar gives his left hand a polyrhythmic feel, while playing syncopated lines with his right hand. His harmonies go all the way classical in "Lullaby Fantazia," another piece made hip by virtue of its rhythmic ideas — and by drummer Ludwig Afonso, who evidently has enough sensitivity to follow the bandleader's whims. The effect is beautiful and disorienting. Guest saxophonists Joshua Redman and Felipe Lamoglia give Virtue a modern edge, as does Nicholas Payton, who adds a hefty trumpet solo on "Blackjack." Eldar is still trying to find mooring. But his music got a lot more interesting in the process. (Sony)


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