Since the end of the Cold War, it seems like every decade a wunderkind has emerged from a most unlikely former Soviet Republic territory to dazzle the jazz world with prodigious talent on the piano. In the early 2000’s it was Eldar Djangirov of Kyrgyzstan and in 2012 it’s Beka Gochiashvili of Tbilisi, Georgia. At the age of 16 Gochiashvili has released his first album and, let’s just say if you can’t pronounce his name now, you will learn to pronounce it.
Gochiashvili was playing snippets of Scott Joplin rags at the age of two-and-a-half. He was engrossed in the music of Keith Jarrett at four. By five he was writing tunes and impressing top jazz professors, by 10 he was playing Tbilisi clubs and, at the age of 11, he caught the ear of drummer Lenny White, a veteran of the bands of Miles Davis and Chick Corea. In 2009 his country’s Ministry of Education and Science awarded him a scholarship to study in the pre-college division of the Julliard School in New York. Since then he has studied with pianists Frank Kimbrough, Fred Hersch and Danilo Perez.
Gochiashvili’s debut album is produced by White, who not only plays drums on it, but assembled an all-star cast of sidemen to make this premier a very special occasion. Helping out are Stanley Clarke, Victor Bailey, Ben Williams and John Patitucci on bass; Richie Barshay, drums; Wallace Roney, trumpet; Jaleel Shaw and Ben Solomon, sax and Tom Guarna, guitar. Natalia Kutateladze sings a beautiful vocal on a Georgian ballad, “Herio Bichebo,” by Giya Kancheli. Another of Kancheli’s tunes, “When Almonds Blossomed” is also featured in a beautiful arrangement.
Right from the start, on “Un Gran Abrazo,” Gochiashvili is swinging like a 1950’s hard bop giant. The title means “A Big Hug” and the song is dedicated to Chick Corea whose first email to Gochiashvili ended with those words. On tunes like “Coco” Gochiashvili proves he knows the full scope of jazz, with some richly embellished, stride-like blues. Gochiashvili wrote those tunes along with five others on the album. His ballad “Made Of Tenderness” displays compositional skill way beyond his years.
The well-know players on this disc are, not surprisingly, excellent. Aside for Gochiashvili, the other somewhat lesser-known talent shining here is Guarna, who plays superb guitar solos at every turn. But it’s Gochiashvili who you can bet the whole jazz world will be buzzing about soon.