Isfar Sarabski Trio headlines the Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris

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Azerbaijani jazz pianist Isfar Sarabski Trio gave an outstanding concert in Paris for an audience of over 300 fans, organised by The European Azerbaijan Society.

Aerial view of the Isfar Sarabski Trio

The Isfar Sarabski Trio's performance attracted wild applause

Six months to the day since his acclaimed concert at the Duc des Lombards club in December, the Isfar Sarabski Trio made a triumphant return to Paris on 16 May as a part of the famous Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris, performing before a wildly appreciative audience of over 300. Now in its 14th edition, the festival is one of the staple fixtures of the Parisian jazz calendar, and audiences comprise critics, musicians and fans alike. Performing a rich blend of music, most of which were Isfar’s own compositions, this concert was supported by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS). It took place at the Maison des Cultures du Monde cultural centre, which focuses on cultural exchange and the maintenance of cultural diversity.

In recent years, Isfar has won numerous awards, including that of the Jazz Solo Piano Prize at the Montreux International Jazz Festival in 2009 when he was aged only 19 years. He is also an Honoured Artist of the Azerbaijani Republic. Performing in the standard trio setting with Makar Novikov (bass) and Alexander Mashin (drums) he performs in a post-bop jazz style, mixed with mugham, the traditional music of his homeland.

Isfar’s programme began with a dreamlike introduction to his 'Déjà vu', which picked up tempo with the introduction of Alexander Mashin’s drumming. The trio has been playing together for some years, and this was evident when hearing the interplay between Isfar and the innovative Alexander. This piece – as with many on the programme – demonstrated Isfar’s exciting and percussive style. On the other hand, 'Transit to New York' was a more contemplative piece, this time showcasing the talents of bassist Makar Novikov. Isfar’s delicate piano solo went on to elicit a call of ‘magnifique’ from members of the audience.

After a solo introduction that alluded to the magical aspects of the ballet, Isfar’s next solo went on to develop into the 'Dance of the Cygnets' from Tchaikovsky’s 'Swan Lake Ballet'. Taking this as a point of departure, the tempo gradually picked up and, spurred by the enthusiastic audience, Isfar began to improvise wildly, his dizzying fingers becoming a blur.

Isfar is classically-trained, and his 'Prélude' began with an obvious homage to J.S. Bach, before developing into a funky riff that led the audience into spirited clapping on the beat. This also gave Alexander Mashin chance to demonstrate the full range of his techniques. After wild applause, Isfar’s trio returned to the stage for an encore of his 'Novruz', which incorporated the eastern harmonies of his homeland.

Isfar’s set was followed by the popular French BFG (Bex Ferris Goubert) Hammond organ-led trio, which wowed the audience with a rich and energetic blend of funky improvisation.

Jazz has retained a longstanding popularity in Azerbaijan, not least due to the fact that its improvised nature has some similarities to Azerbaijani mugham. Isfar regularly performs in the Baku Jazz Centre, which hosts concerts every evening, and at the Baku International Jazz Festival, which has hosted a range of international and Azerbaijani performers, including Billy Cobham, Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock.

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