Eldar, the 18-year-old jazz piano phenom already signed to a major label, certainly came up with a novel sales pitch at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis. Off to college in the fall, he promised to spend the proceeds from the sale of his self-titled debut CD at the campus bookstore.

Born Eldar Djangirov in Kyrgyzstan, the pianist displayed extraordinary technique from the moment he began collaborating Monday night with bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Carmen Intorre. "Watermelon Island," an original piece, kicked off the concert and featured the pianist saluting Herbie Hancock, one of his most apparent keyboard inspirations, with imaginative allusions to his compositional designs and harmonic vocabulary.

Eldar also paid tribute to another hero, performing Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now." Rather than evoke the composer's percussive attack and tart harmonies, Eldar fashioned a jaw-dropping, Art Tatumesque solo interpretation, teeming with chromatic flurries and punctuated by resounding left-hand chords and striding patterns.

If Eldar sometimes seemed a bit too intent on demonstrating his virtuosity -- even the Bobby Timmons soul jazz classic "Moanin' " was laced with ornate passages -- blame it on his youthful exuberance. "Check it out, it's crazy," he said before unveiling his skittish, funk-accented take on Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." The performance lived up to its billing, thanks in part to the vigorous support provided by Panascia and Intorre. The trio capped the concert by making Juan Tizol's "Caravan" sound as if it were named after a formidable roller coaster.

-- Mike Joyce