Monday, February 28, 2011

The Rebirth of the Violin in Jazz: Majid Khaliq's "Basilisk"

The BasiliskMajid Khaliq’s   “The Basilisk”

Recorded at Park West Studios, Brooklyn, NY.

Starting formal lessons at age five, violinist Majid Khaliq has been a serious student of his instrument. With his father’s Ray Nance recordings as early influences, the young player finished Julliard in 2002. During that period he spent some serious time honing his skills in and around New York.  He continued his advanced musical education and in 2010 completed his master’s in jazz performance at the Aaron Copland School of Music at New York’s Queen’s College. He is presently a member of the faculty of the Waldorf School of Garden City. 

Mr. Khaliq possesses a rare sound on his instrument that bridges tradition while probing past fusion into new territory for the instrument.  He is a hybrid between the traditionalists like the aforementioned Nance, Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli and Stuff Smith. Pioneers who could make their instruments swing or make them sigh with exquisite emotional pathos. Despite being too young to be directly affected by fusion, he has absorbed influences of fusion pioneers like Jean-Luc Ponty, Michal Urbaniak and Jerry Goodman as well as his mentor John Blake Jr.  If that wasn’t enough of a wellspring to tap into, he has also been affected by the Hip-Hop influences of his own generation. The result is a completely unique amalgam of truly modern jazz violin.
The title track “Basilik” comes from Majid’s love of Chinese astrology, where his sign is the snake. “Basilik” is the king of the snakes in  Medieval European folklore. With an infectious urban back beat played by the dynamic Johnathan Blake on drums, the song snakes through its twists and turns, with Khaliq at times seemingly mimicing the scratching sound of a hip-hop turntable artist with his unique bowing techniques.

Charles Porters crisp trumpet lines are a welcome sound. His intuitive interplay with Khaliq’s violin on their synchronous duets is wonderfully complimentary on the title track as well as on the driving “Expectation”. Eric Lewis’s energetic piano solo on the aforementioned song bobs and weaves along. Blake’s drum solo is at times militaristic and at times bombastic. Khaliq’s violin is never predictable with its off-kilter sound always sending you in unexpected directions.

The waltz-like “O Hime” is a fetching composition that borrows elements of the classical style.  Khaliq, Porter and pianist Jeb Patton together weave their sounds into a delicate tapestry of gossamer elegance.  The young violinist has the ability to make his instrument sing with voice-like earnestness. Patton’s solo is itself expressionistic and heartfelt.

“Mansa Khan Musa” again finds Porter on the front line with Khaliq, this time with muted bell. The two have a rare affinity for playing together. Khaliq’a lines are always interesting, interspersing different stylistic choices by changing bowing techniques and string attacks in most unusual ways.

“Inner Glimpse” is a McCoy Tyner up-tempo composition that really cooks. Patton plays with particular inspiration as bassist Ivan Taylor and drummer Blake keep the drive pumping. Khaliq shows off a bit of his fusion chops here and Porter and Blake  both put in nice solo efforts.

“Spirals” is another Khaliq original that in an interview he called “…a post-apocalyptic view of  modern jazz, which circles deep into the depths of despair.”  The tune vacillates between an ominous cacophony and a Stuff Smith inspired blues swing, where all front line members get a chance to let out their stuff 9 no pun intended). The guitarist Andrea Vocatura contributes a nice solo.

“The Truth” is an original composition from trumpeter Charles Porter. Khaliq demonstrates his ability to elicit great emotional depth from this soulful song.

The finale is the Burke/Van Husen standard “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” which Khaliq plays with a true gypsy heart, doubling on his strings to great effect. Pianist Patton plays a beautiful solo of his own that is at first delicately wandering and then jaggedly purposeful. Khaliq ends in a magnificent embellishment that is Grappelli-like in all its grandeur. Very nice indeed!

Musicians: Majid Khaliq (violin); Charles Porter (trumpet), Jeb Patton (piano) tracks 3,5-8; Eric Lewis (piano) racks 1, 2 & 4; Ivan Taylor (bass);Johnathan Blake (drums); Andrea Vocatura (guitar) track 6 & 7 (not listed on album)  .

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