Putting the 'Z' in 'Xenophonia'

Balkan-born, European-influenced musician Bojan Z bring his brand of jazz to the Israel Festival.

bojan z 88 298 (photo credit: )
bojan z 88 298
(photo credit: )
Bojan Z has good reason to stick to his much abbreviated surname. Surely, if you're looking to become a household name, "Z" - instead of the mouthful Zulfikarpasic - is far more user-friendly. When the Yugoslav-born, Paris-ensconced jazz pianist performs here next week (May 30) as part of the Israel Festival with his trio, which includes bass player Remmi Vignolo and drummer Ari Hoenig, he will be packing more than a single letter nom de plume. A spin of his latest recording, Xenophonia, reveals a musician with his fingers in numerous and varied stylistic pies. "I live in Paris and I am from former Yugoslavia, so I feel a stranger everywhere, or I can feel at home anywhere. That's where the title of CD comes from," explains Bojan. "But the music I play is clearly influenced by the part of the world I come from." While that Balkan influence is, as thirty-something Bojan says, tangible and audible in his output, it took his self-imposed exile to bring him back to his cultural-musical roots. "I grew up with all kinds of music - rock, pop, folk, classical, you-name-it. I've now lived half of my life in Paris so it's an interesting juncture of my life to look at where I come from." Some believe that European jazz musicians today offer a wider genre palette than their American counterparts. Bojan also subscribes to that idea. "I find that people in Europe are more interested in the wider range of things I play. I mean, why would they be interested in hearing Bojan Z play Gershwin? But, I guess, if I were playing a concert in America, it would be more necessary to play the standard repertoire." Bojan also feels that Europeans, in general, or more open to unconventional musical directions, although he stops short of denigrating the homeland of jazz altogether. "Yes, I think people in Europe are more receptive to musicians trying out new things, outside the mainstream. But, I wouldn't say there is no good music coming from America, because that is false. I think over here [in Europe] we are closer to so many influences that they end up using in America too - but only afterwards." "Ulaz", the opening track on Xenophonia, runs the gamut from restrained velvety forays, to highly percussive statements - both on drums and Bojan's piano. It is a subtle work, but with more than a hint of pent-up emotion. There are also a few nods towards electric rock-jazz fusion. "Zeven" feeds more off more traditional jazz roots and "Wheels" opens with a thought-provoking staccato Balkan attack on electric keyboards followed by something akin to late sixties British rock churned out by the likes of Deep Purple and King Crimson. The album closes with Bojan's version of the David Bowie hit "Ashes To Ashes". The Yugoslav is evidently a product of his time, and a multicultural milieu. With such a heady and variegated musical brew one wonders where Bojan's true allegiances really lie. "I don't feel any obligation to pay my dues to jazz," he declares. "I did that when I was younger. I also don't feel I want to defend the position of jazz, which is simplistically defined as swing plus blues. I like playing it, but in a way which is exciting to me. If it is exciting to me it might end up being exciting to the audience." You can't ask for a more altruistic attitude than that. Bojan Z will appear at the Jerusalem Theater on May 30 at 9:30 p.m.