SHAHIN NOVRASLI

The Fires of Creation

Our interview with Shahin Novrasli sent us through the back issues of 'Jazz dünyasы' to find this characterization of Azerbaijan's jazz musicians by Jahangir Selimkhanov,
"….inwardly burning with the fires of creation, such people are always faithful to their ideas and impose no limit to their imagination."

Shahin Novrasli

An apt image in a land powered by the oil and gas beneath it, but especially true of Novrasli - like the flames of Yanar Dag, his creative temperament absolutely refuses constraint; as he talks you can almost hear the hiss of ideas seeking a keyboard for their release.
His playing, too, at its best is as full of creative tension. The delicacy of touch and suspense in the timing can take you to the edge of your seat and your breath in a performance of 'Яlindя sazыn qurbanы'. His confidence in his own vision and style has grown markedly since we first saw him deliver a rousing and more overtly crowd-pleasing performance on the fringe of an early festival. The two albums he's released so far, J’z Mu (June 2004) and Live in Moscow (February 2005) were recorded before audiences (the first on a memorable evening in Baku's Jazz Centre) and capture the immediacy and communication he increasingly seeks.

Shahin Novrasli

Now 28, Shahin Novrasli has crammed half a lifetime's study and practice into his drive to understand more and to introduce new dimensions into his playing; this has now led him, perhaps paradoxically, back to his classical training. As with many of his fellow jazzmen, he began with a thorough grounding in the classics and, inspired by recordings of Vagif Mustafa-zadeh, he turned to jazz as a way of putting more of himself into the music. While jazz has to follow the musical rules, it allows freer forms and improvisation and, for Novrasli's need to express himself, this was one logical route, alongside the national music of mugham which he started learning from his tar-playing brother Arslan.

Shahin Novrasli

Now, perhaps after learning from the experience of public performance, he has turned again to classical music and again to his teacher Gulya Namazova, of the Bulbul School of Music, whose support and inspiration he readily acknowledges as essential to his development. He feels he is returning with a heightened awareness of the interaction between composer, musician and audience, and with new trails to explore.
"Everyone has his own feelings inside when he listens to a musician ….(before) I thought people just listened for Bach, but (now) I realise people want their own voice. I try to get inside the audience, now I want to play Bach, Mozart and do the same."

Shahin Novrasli

He believes that his musical education has also progressed:
"I need to get back to classical music - I question why a composer wrote this chord and not that one; when I understand why, I can play - but now I can put more into it."
This will not be through improvisation - Novrasli's great love of the music of the classical composers, especially Mozart and Bach, means playing it as written but with this enhanced understanding of the composition and its audience. He hopes in the future to play concerts with one set of classical music and one of jazz. For the next three or four months, then, he will concentrate on classical music before returning to jazz in the build up to next year's Baku Jazz Festival. After a concert in
Shahin Novrasli

Baku, the plan is to follow with a tour of Europe; as with his previous tours, the support of Nuri Ahmadov, General Director of the Azeurotel Company, has been crucial in allowing Shahin the means to broaden his horizons.
Having played in Russia, Turkey and Italy, he is rapidly gaining experience of different audiences. He was also invited back this year to Minneapolis USA for the annual 'Hot Summer Jazz Festival' and was lifted by the number of his expatriate countrymen in the audience, as well as by the interest in mugham from Americans. After the festival he took the chance to play in New York and in October played again with his preferred band of Nathan Peck (bass) and Allison Miller (drums) at the Antalya Piano Festival.

Shahin Novrasli

Shahin first met Nathan Peck when the American came to Baku with the Kelley Johnson Quartet last year. Peck's understanding and response to a mugham theme during an impromptu jam session quickly established a sympathetic musical relationship already apparent to good affect on the Live in Moscow album. As audiences have noticed, this pianist plays away from the audience; a typical performance starts with a few moments to focus and immerse himself in the music to come - he doesn't want eye contact, playing purely by feeling, ear and touch. Thus he appreciates the instinctive reflexes of his contemporary bass player.
Novrasli's relationships with other musicians developed a new public dimension at this year's Baku Jazz Festival when he played with a band on a project led by Rain Sultanov. This exciting project promises to culminate in a distinctive album over the coming months and it was interesting to see and hear this renowned soloist playing a disciplined and supportive role. For Shahin it's all about each musician taking his own responsibility,
"I just try to feel what he wants then play myself….when I play I always feel like a leader, this is me, my music….doing it for the music."

Shahin Novrasli

Those of us lucky enough to have witnessed his emergence as a leader of this jazz generation are also aware of the potential still to be realised by Shahin Novrasli. His reasons for returning to classical music augur well;
"I had to find something, I can't just play, I always want more, to keep progressing, and sometimes you just need to think more."

Shahin Novrasli

He is in no hurry, "the main thing is to be ready" he says, amid the growing recognition for his skill, knowledge and the excitement he generates.
As the land of flames yields its resources to a new cycle of development, so a new generation of artists is mining its cultural legacy. Pianist Shahin Novrasli is one of those digging deepest and burning brightest with the fires of creation.