Elchin never attended music school. He was tutored by great musical talents including Vagif Sadikhov, Aaron Goldberg, Kevin Hays, Jean Michel Pilc, and Yakov Okun. In his formative years, Elchin was influenced by a number of great musicians, most notably Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Brad Mehldau, through intense study of their music.
In 2008 he began cooperating with Jazz Center in Baku. Elchin then played several concerts in Germany, France and Switzerland with Sevda Alekperzade Band. Elchin has been part of the Rain Sultanov Quartet with which he appeared on festival stages in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Malaysia. In 2010, in 2011, in 2012, in 2013 and in 2016 he gave performances in Baku Jazz Festival with his own band – Elchin Shirinov Trio.
From 2010-2017 he played at the Voicingers Jazz Festival in Poland. In 2013 he toured Poland with Polish jazz musicians Grzegorz Karnas, Michal Jaros and Sebastian Frankiewicz. In the same year he played at Montreux Jazz Festival with Sevda Alekperzade and at Jazzy Colors Festival in Paris with Elchin Shirinov trio.
In 2014 he began a collaboration with musicians from the London Jazz scene playing in Cannes with drummer Jon Scott and bassist Andrea Di Biase and later in Paris and Athens with Sam Lasserson. In the same year Elchin played at Baku Jazz Festival with american jazz stars Ben Street and Jeff Ballard and at Vomex Festival in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) with Ben Street and Adam Cruz. He then played in Vienna at Porgy and Bess Jazz club with Rain Sultanov, Yasuhito Mori and Peter Nilsson and at Kiev Jazz Festival with Grzegorz Karnas Quartet.
2015 was an intense year of concerts with Elchin Shirinof Trio with Italian bassist Andrea Di Biase and British drummer Dave Hamlett, including performances at Vigado Concert Hall (Budapest, Hungary), at Mugam Festival in Baku, at Sunside Jazz club in Paris, in various venues in Brussels and Moscow, in Palmengarten concert hall in Frankfurt and for the “De Soie et de Feu” Festival in Mulhouse (France). The year culminated with a concert at Baku Jazz Festival with Andrea Di Biase and Jon Scott. Oon 22 April 2016 he gave performances with Andrea Di Biase (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums) at the Jazzahead exhibition and festival in Bremen, Germany.
The concert at the Spice of Life on 13 July featured two musicians well-versed in Shirinov’s music – Italian bassist Andrea Di Biase and British drummer Jon Scott, with whom he has regularly collaborated for over two years. Headlining after a set by the UK fusion band Alex Munk’s Flying Machines, he performed before a rapt audience, his Azerbaijani heritage being evident from the start with his version of the Azerbaijani folk song Durna, which began at a furious drum-led pace and was replete with eastern harmonies, microtones and repeated figures, urging on Scott towards increasingly daring and complex drum passages. This, in turn, prompted a staccato response by Shirinov before his pianistic pyrotechnics upped the tempo even further, reaching a new degree of excitement. Throughout the concert, Di Biase demonstrated that the legacy of the great lyric bass player of postbop jazz – Scott LaFaro – remains firmly alive. The concert two days later in the intimate surroundings of the Vortex jazz club gave Shirinov and Di Biase even more time to stretch out over two sets – this time collaborating with the drummer Dave Hamblett. Billed as ‘London’s Listening Jazz Club’, the attentive audience remained transfixed throughout both sets.
“Passionate. Thoughtful. Always playing with care, Elchin Shirinov is a musician for us to discover and enjoy. His original compositions are exciting to listen to. The band on this recording sounds relaxed and in totally sync. Their playing together is smooth as silk and seemingly effortless. Great stuff!”
– Jeff Ballard
“Elchin Shirinov has developed a sound and approach all his own. His writing and piano playing echo another time yet resonate with a modernity that is striking. He really pulls a sound out of the piano making possible a whole palette of sonic color. It is music worth exploring deeply.”
– Larry Grenadier
2016 May 27. Interview
after the concert at Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris
With Eric Harland.
Elchin Shirinov – Brewing Up a Storm
Seamlessly blending pianistic pyrotechnics and mugham into an intoxicating aural experience, Elchin Shirinov is one of the brightest shining starts of Azerbaijani music. Emanating from a folk music background, he first came to prominence in 2008 when he began performing at the Baku Jazz Centre, and toured Germany, France and Switzerland with the Sevda Alekperzade Band. He also played in the Rain Sultanov Quartet at festivals in Georgia and Malaysia, in addition to his homeland. From 2010–13, the Elchin Shirinov Trio became a mainstay of the Baku International Jazz Festival, and in 2010 and 2013 they appeared at the Voicingers Jazz Festival in Poland, both of which provided many opportunities for collaborations with western musicians. Later in 2013, he went on to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival and made his inaugural appearance in Paris at the Jazzy Colours Festival.
Since that time, Elchin has become well-known on the international festival scene, appearing in Vienna, Spain, Greece, Ukraine and Hungary, in addition to Paris, and headlined at the De Soie et de Feu (Of Silk and Fire) festival in Mulhouse, which was dedicated to the music of Azerbaijan.
Elchin has been particularly industrious this year, and TEAS sponsored his appearance the Sunnyside Jazz Festival in Reims; Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris; and in London at the Spice of Life and Vortex Jazz Clubs, in addition to his performances in Budapest and Bremen. Neil Watson caught up with Elchin alongside American drummer Eric Harland backstage at the Maison des Cultures du Monde, following their rapturously received Parisian concert where they collaborated with bassist Linley Marthe.
How do you feel after tonight’s concert?
Elchin Shirinov (ES): I feel as happy as a kid. On the stage, we felt very comfortable, as there was a sound system. However, in Reims we had no amplification and had to play acoustically. I liked it, too.
Eric Harland (EH): As our performance in Reims was acoustic, I had to restrain myself as a drummer, as there was no balancing and a risk I would drown out the other musicians. When there are microphones, I can open up and achieve more of a dynamic range. It is possible to range from playing extremely soft, but also very loudly, as I know that the sound mixer will ensure that the other instruments will remain audible.
The Maison des Cultures du Monde is an excellent stage, as this is an intimate space and the audience is right there with you. Stages are usually a little deeper and we are consequently further back. I could feel the warmth of the audience this evening. It is always a pleasure to come to France, as I am aware of the extent of appreciation for jazz. Audiences allow the music to touch them, and they respond more dramatically here than in the US and other countries. Other cultures respond, but sometimes this response is more analytical, and they feel they have to be more polite. It is a beautiful moment for musicians such as ourselves when we are aware that the level of concentration is enhanced, as this is all energy, and this is consequently reflected in our performances.
Were you originally classically-trained?
ES: In fact, I originate from a folk music background, although I eventually took lessons from classical teachers. My older brothers are folk musicians – one plays balaban, and the other plays tar. They were studying at Baku State Conservatoire and received some special piano lessons at the music school. This led my father to purchase a piano and I quickly developed a love for this instrument. I performed the folk tunes practiced by my brothers on the piano.
What inspired you to begin playing jazz?
ES: One of my brothers bought me a cassette with Oscar Peterson on one side, and Bill Evans on the reverse. I adored this music and played the cassette each day. I was most impressed by the formidable technique of Oscar Peterson, but it was introspective approach of Bill Evans that really captured my imagination. I liked his harmonies and his cerebral approach
EH: The first drummer that really influenced me was Elvin Jones. He was featured on the first album that I bought, which was John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme from 1965. I was so much entranced with the work of Coltrane that I became greatly aware of the playing of Elvin Jones and wondered what that sound was. I started to look into the nature of the support element in jazz, behind the soloist. Before that, I heard everything together, but I was interested in finding out how the performances of Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones worked together. I always wanted my playing to sound like the entire group.
I remember listening to that record and trying to play with each group member, and wanted to become used to their phrasing. For example, I would hear how Coltrane would move around over the chords and would try to mimic him. The next time I heard the record, I would just listen to Coltrane and focus on Elvin and learn how to play with the space between the chords. I wanted to see how the instruments worked separately, but also in unison.
I specialise in polyrhythmic drumming, where there are multiple rhythms working simultaneously, and that was how Max Roach, Elvin Jones and the other great drummers played in all jazz from bebop and beyond. Elvin Jones was virtually the first drummer to support other instrumentalists – that was part of his sound. The way he moved the soloists along and felt the beat differed to other drummers of the 1950s and 60s. Each drummer has different beat places, and that determines where they feel the pulse. Alignment of time is one thing, but pulse is rather different. All drummers have a different level of pulse and that brings the group together.
To what extent did Vagif Mustafazadeh, the father of jazz-mugham, have an influence on you?
ES: I do not like to call my music ‘jazz-mugham,’ as such a style does not exist. In my view, it should be called ethnojazz – jazz inspired by folk music, as this is the source of many of the harmonies. The mother of Vagif Mustafazadeh was a folk music teacher, and she taught him mugham from his childhood. He then started to combine folk and jazz music. He was not the first person to do so, but he was one of the best, and was consequently recorded. Naturally, I listened to his work a lot, but I have also performed much of the jazz standard repertoire.
Azerbaijani folk music is replete with semitones. What are the challenges when combining jazz and folk music?
ES: I only started to perform ethnojazz around five years ago, and have been mixing folk music with jazz harmonies and different rhythmical metres. This evening I performed some folk songs, compositions taken from the Azerbaijani classical repertoire, and some of my own compositions. I often change the metre, chords and style, and like to experiment and mix up the music. This is particularly the case when I improvise around themes from Azerbaijani classical music, including the Waltz from the Seven Beauties ballet by Gara Garayev and an aria from the operetta O Olmasin Bu Olsun (If Not That One, Then This One) by Uzeyir Hajibeyli.
Does performing Azerbaijani ethnojazz present western musicians with any particular challenges?
EH: It’s very interesting for me, particularly as a drummer. I was fortunate to play a lot with tabla drummer Zakir Hussain, who introduced me to the really deep complexities of eastern rhythms. His work is amazing, and I had opportunity to visit India numerous times where he would teach me the ragas, which have some underlying similarities with Azerbaijani folk music. The way his music moves now feels very natural to me.
I know that, when I was younger, and solely playing music from the US, I would have found it very hard to play such rhythms, which give more scope for unusual drumming patterns. In the beginning, that can be hard, as eastern rhythms serve to create a different musical syntax. I had not listened to Azerbaijani music to any great extent before starting my collaboration with Elchin, and only visited Azerbaijan for the first time last year with Charles Lloyd, when he performed at the Baku International Jazz Festival. Baku is a great blend of cultures, in addition to its own culture, and that really surprised me. It’s impossible to imagine what it is like before you visit.
How was it like to work with Rain Sultanov as part of his quartet?
ES: He’s an excellent saxophonist and I have played with him a great deal. He was much influenced by Michael Brecker and Jan Garbarek, and now performs in a very transcendental style.
Pianist Brad Mehldau has made some appreciative comments about your music. How is your music received by the jazz community and by audiences around the world?
ES: Audiences in Poland, the UK and France respond particularly well to my music. I have many friends in London, and collaborate a great deal with these. My inaugural recording was made with my British trio that includes Andrea Di Biase (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). I am currently searching for a record label that can record and distribute my work, maybe with the addition of a saxophonist.
How important is the Baku International Jazz Festival for Azerbaijani jazz musicians in putting them on the jazz map and enabling them to hear and work with western musicians?
ES: The Festival provides an opportunity for international collaborations. For example, I played with drummer Jeff Ballard two years ago, which was a wonderful experience.
How did the members of the trio meet?
ES: I met Linley two years ago at the Baku International Jazz Festival. Then I saw Linley and Eric work together on YouTube and recognised that they achieved some amazing grooves with wonderful energy. Eric and I met again last year when he came to Baku with legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd.
How did you start playing the melodica (wind-operated piano)?
ES: I have been using this instrument for the first time here in France. I liked its sound, and thought I would experiment with this instrument.