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Bojan Z

[English] [français]

SOUL SHELTER

"It takes passion to make a record," says Bojan Zulfikarpasic. It takes patience, too : you have to know when to make it. To compose, you need to be composed : not to write music but to make something lasting happen. To work at giving life to scattered "pieces", to decide to sit down at some point in order to immortalize what you carry inside you by way of sounds, ideas, melodies and colours. That particular approach – which compels a musician to record his creation, i.e. to fix it and give it a form taken to be accomplished – is the approach to which jazz has perhaps shown the most resistance when considering its adoption. Why today, and not tomorrow ? From one day to the next, improvisation inevitably varies, and inspiration with it. You have to seize your courage in both hands to allow yourself to do this. As someone who regularly gives himself up to this exercise in concerts, Bojan hadn’t recorded a solo piano album in more than a decade. And now he’s finally gone back to it with Soul Shelter, and done so in a way that not only illustrates his mastery of playing alone, but which also confirms the originality behind his musical persona, an originality which makes him a major creator of Europe’s contemporary jazz.

It took an extraordinary place to make this record materialize. Not a place with exceptional magnificence, but a place that lends itself to this accession-event that is the making of a record : a shelter, a room in which the music can impose itself without the everyday upsets, a place aside from the intrusions of immediate reality. Bojan Z found that place among people who, for thirty years now, have been making the grand pianos of which he has become a most enthusiastic supporter : Fazioli. In the Italian town of Sacile some thirty miles north of Venice, not far from the Val di Fiemme whose forests produce the wood from which these pianos are made, the Fazioli manufacturing company has a site where a purpose-built concert-hall has existed alongside it since 2005. It was inside this human-sized auditorium – next-door to those same artisans who fashion these reputed instruments to which Bojan Z has long been faithful – that the pianist put down his bags to sit behind the keyboard of a concert-model ; he immediately adopted it, while the sound-engineer, the loyal Philippe Teissier du Cros, was skilfully placing the microphones which would capture the soul of the instrument and that of its music.

Even though he was making himself comfortable in the very lair from which the best pianos in the world have been emerging, Bojan Z hadn’t gone there without the Fender Rhodes he’s been carefully tinkering with for several years, transforming this typical electric piano of the Sixties into a weird and wonderful machine – its electric, twisted sounds buzzing with energy have led him to rename it a "xenophone" – which produces "foreign" sounds that resist all attempts at categorization. Their origins are mysterious, and Bojan Z has learned how to shape them with a little bit of, yes, "tinkering", and a great deal of imagination. Both in the studios and onstage, Bojan Z uses his xenophone and piano in tandem, one hand on each keyboard, with special-effects pedals close by, marrying the electric and acoustic sounds of the one and the other in real time in an exercise resembling a balancing-act, one which allows him to associate the depth of the piano with elements of sound which broaden his palette of expression – "foreign" bodies which appear as a diffraction pattern or complement the "natural", polished, luminescent sound of the piano. There’s nothing orthodox about Bojan Z in this : the piano is something whose contours he loves to explore, playing on its strings and using its frame as a percussion-instrument, all the while remaining "fascinated by everything you can pull from an instrument." In the course of this album, he more than once provides a remarkable demonstration of what stirs that fascination.

Soul Shelter, therefore, is that refuge – at once fictional and real – where the soul of the music can curl up alongside the soul of the man who produces it, and you have to know where to find it to do it justice. There’s also some irony in the fact that the place where Bojan Z chose to record this second solo opus – and he only discovered it once he was there – lies only a few miles distant from another place which has strong resonances with his own story : Aviano, where there is a military-base which saw NATO aircraft take off on air-raids over the former Yugoslavia, torn apart by fratricidal conflicts at the end of the Nineties. So, just when he was striving to immerse himself in his music, retreating from the world the better to give free rein to his imagination, the pianist’s personal history caught up with him (he left his country in 1988, and his relationship with it has been ambivalent ever since), as did our own history of a Europe powerless to prevent massacres and protect its populations. And despite all this, Bojan Z was still making music, in a world which, in his eyes, seems to be losing its mind a little more each day.

Soul Shelter – perhaps even more than he thought – reflects the identity of Bojan Z. The solo album encourages a mirror that reflects back to your true being, and in the course of this record – which takes its time to disclose itself, neither hurriedly nor demonstratively – Bojan Z offers us those multiple faces of his which we all know and which make his art so original : a musician who has cherished jazz as music of freedom ; a pianist in whom the folk music of the Balkans has fostered an incomparable virtuosity in rhythm ; a performer steeped in classical influences who remembers his dead father and the Hungarian romances he used to pick out on the piano ; a voyager whose sources of inspiration range from the fragment of a melody taken from a flautist playing a Bulgarian kaval, a percussive chaabi rhythm or a blues rising out of the deep Mississippi Delta. An instrumentalist with a knack for finding playing-partners from beyond frontiers, as in the group he formed around Michel Portal or with his own Tetraband. A jazzman, finally, and probably one of the most "multi" jazzmen one can see on today’s scene.

At the confluence of several cultures, Bojan Z draws on a vast number of references without his music ever sounding like an artificial collage ; it has the sound of some personal idiom, a form of expression where words taken from all languages can be heard in the image of what he is himself : a man capable of borrowing from Arabic, Italian, English or Serbian in the same discussion, trawling through the range of languages that spring into his consciousness to find that phrase which is the most appropriate response to his idea. It should come as no surprise that his conclusion to this record is the little-known Duke Ellington theme On a Turquoise Cloud, a piece for which Bojan Z has scaled down the arrangement for a big band with a singer, reducing it for a solo piano in a personal tribute to a composer who saw music as the best vehicle for drawing men and their cultures closer together. It’s an ambition to which "the art of the piano according to Bojan Z" is no foreigner.

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