How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Put Goran Ivanovic Group in your CD player, then sit down quickly and hang on to your seat. The energy that pours out of the speakers will literally bowl you over before you know what happened, or you might just want to get up and dance. But there is much more than sheer energy on this record. Yes, there is Ivanovic's technical prowess, as well as that of the rest of the band, but what is on display here is a real fusion of foreign folk musics with the improvisational esthetics of American jazz.
Ivanovic was born in Croatia in 1977 to a Serbian father and a Bosnian Croat mother, and his family has known the horrors of the conflict in the Balkans. Luckily, they made it to the United States, where he continued his training in classical guitar. He has subsequently branched out into blues and jazz, fusing both with the music from his former homeland, producing something new, invigorating and exciting.
Of critical importance is that his bandmates have totally assimilated this Balkan music, with its different scales and meters. They are not being led by Ivanovic, but acting as a group, pushing each other. The result is a joyous noise and a wonderful example of our common human spirit that can thrive when given the freedom to do so. Of the thirteen tracks, five use the traditional folk music of the Balkans (emphasizing Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia); six were written by Ivanovic himself, plus one by multi-reedist Douglas Rosenberg.
Rosenberg's "Episodes from a Village Dance," on which he plays flute, gives clear evidence of the depth of the band's submersion in the music of Ivanovic's homeland. He says that the melody came to him in a dream; the fusion drifts more towards the jazz side, still drawing deeply from the Balkan well. While not quite as "authentic" as the other tracks, it would probably draw smiles from Balkan expatriates. Bassist Matthew Scott Ulery and drummer Michael Caskey are an essential part of the group's rhythmic drive, precision and stylistic accuracy.
Throughout, Ivanovic is a powerhouse, giving every note a sense of fire and passion. His enormous classical guitar chops are on display, but their use is almost thrown away, in the manner of a Macedonian village player who is just playing, not thinking of himself as a virtuoso. In any case, this music, which feels essentially like dance music, is given immense forward energy and high drama.
Each track has its own dramatic arch, its own surprises, its own power. Goran Ivanovich Group is a winner from any perspective.
Track Listing: Gates to the Unknown; Blacksmith's Dance; Svatbarska Racenia; Episodes From a Village
Dance; Macedonian Girl; White Walls; Seven Boats; Ederlezi; Balkan Healer; Last Mohican From
Rockford; Jovano Jovanke; Kalajdzisko Oro; Pieza szin Titula.
Personnel: Goran Ivanovic: acoustic guitar; Douglas Rosenberg: saxophones, flute; Matthew Scott Ulery:
double-bass; Michael Caskey: drums, percussion.