Live reviews

REVIEW: Nikki Yeoh and Zoe Rahman at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Nikki Yeoh (l) and Zoe Rahman at Cheltenham Photo: © John Watson/
Nikki Yeoh and Zoe Rahman (Parabola Arts Centre. Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4 May 2019. Review by Jon Turney) Two concert grand pianos on stage evoke pleasurable anticipation, heightened this time by a small delay to ensure they were in tune together – a temperature issue after the second of the pair arrived, we were told, though they were also from different makers. The two pianists, though, were a perfect match. Nikki Yeoh and her duo partner Zoe Rahman are both fine composers, strong melodists and rhythmic virtuosi, and both have recent solo albums to their credit. This was their third gig together, after a first encounter at the Steinway festival in London in 2017 and a second the previous evening at King’s Place. A full house in the Parabola theatre saw they were well settled in: very comfortable with each other’s playing, but still relishing the possibilities for two gifted improvisers to take flight together. From opener Red Squirrel from Rahman, which had them chasing their own tails, to the encore, Yeoh’s darkly dramatic Solo Gemini, they found new things to do with each piece, whether playing chords together, laying down rhythm for each other’s solo excursions, or making thunder from both sides of the stage. There were moments when both drew rhythm from inside their instruments, one small burst of working side by side, Rahman in the bass, Yeoh playing treble, and a change of ends, just for fun. This was a richly absorbing set to savour the fruits of an ideal collaboration, both players displaying plenty of dazzle without getting in each other’s way. Rahman remarked that one piece was conceived with an orchestra in mind, but gestured to her piano and asked: who needs anything more? Then offered one convincing answer by returning to the task of ensuring that two pianos could sound even better. Judge for yourself when the recording of this set is aired on Radio 3, probably next month. LINK: Sebastian’s interview with Nikki Yeoh and Zoe Rahman (and Gabriela Montero) for the Kings Place website

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