I love jazz, and jazz is a live music, a conversation that must develop between the players and the audience. Yet I rarely go to jazz gigs. It’s partly a matter of not being organised and partly never being sure of somebody to go with. Chicken doesn’t do jazz, especially modern jazz. Modern jazz gigs are often full of lone men in black. I’m reluctant to be one of these men. But last night I did go to a jazz concert, with Jane, to see Faraj Suleiman. And his magnificent music is haunting me. I’m listening to it now, at 9.42 in the morning–it’s like drinking whisky for breakfast.
I “discovered” Suleiman after reading a review of one of his CDs in the Financial Times. (How many other brilliant musicians have I never “discovered” and never will.) I listened to his music through Napster and was much taken with it. His music is a fusion of Eastern, particularly Arabic, music with jazz, a fusion that works perfectly. Jazz, which famously “all sounds the same” to the uninitiated, has a great capacity for absorbing other musical traditions. Suleiman is also a composer, and he combines improvisation and original structures very effectively.
Despite having listened to his music, I knew little about him. He played last night with a quartet of trumpet, electric bass, and drums. Sometimes he played with all four, often with tremendous power and momentum. Sometimes he played with just the bass and drums, and sometimes he played on his own. At one point he sang a song in Arabic with a title of something like JaJa. Jane said it reminded her of Cole Porter, and certainly his singing and the piano combined in a magical way. I’ve tried to track down the along but can’t find it. The song was melancholy, and this morning I’ve discovered that Suleiman is a Palestinian. The song, I now convince myself, contained the longing for a lost country.
Suleiman’s piano play was the best part of the concert, and at times he played the piano as if with a drill, digging his fingers deep into the keyboard. At other times he played with the greatest delicacy, like lacework or the patterns on mosques. As I listened to him, I remembered seeing Miles Davis the day that Freddie was born–and I feel that Suleiman will become a major figure in jazz, a music that endlessly reinvents itself.