How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Hristo Vitchev is an impressionistic jazz guitarist and composer; born in Belgium but now residing in San Francisco, he leads several modern jazz formations, from duets to quartets. His debut, Song For Messambria (Orbit Sounds, 2009), received positive reviews internationally, and his studio album with Latin Grammy-nominated pianist Weber Iago
, Secrets of An Angel (Orbit Sounds, 2009), also received good reviews. Inspired by 5,000 years of Bulgarian history, Vitchev combined classic jazz, fusion and orchestral music in his seven-movement Perperikon Suite, which premiered at the 53rd Monterey Jazz Festival, his regular quartet augmented with multi-instrumentalist/vibraphone virtuoso Christian Tamburr
and drummer Mike Shannon for Familiar Fields , a multilayered delight that combines beautiful guitar melodies and inspired solos from all members of the quartet.
There is a gentleness to Vitchev's compositions, which makes the album easy on the ears whilst allowing four good musicians to play at their best. Impressionistic and lyrical, Vitchev uses each player to weave in and out of the compositions with almost seamless ease, playing in close harmony with, at times, sublime tones that paint pictures of ethereal beauty and stark realism. The gentle tones can be deceptive, however; tracks like "The Mask Of Agememnon" begin with Iago's sultry playing, before giving way to Robbins' deep, mesmeric bass lines. Iago flows effortlessly on "The Fifth Season," playing with the theme before handing it to the other musicians, who take it and build the many layers of sound that so distinguish this recording.
Iago's playing is key to the distinctive sound of this complex, textured and deeply atmospheric album, and Vitchev's compositions allow him, along with the other musicians, to create vivid pictures. The two-part title track lends itself to imagery, the music serving to evoke mental pictures on "Ballad For The Fallen," from fields of grass and flowers to wounded warriors. On "Familiar Fields Part II," piano themes develop to create, by the end, wonderful rivulets of sound. "They Are No More" begins with quiet, atmospheric piano, followed by the others, who weave in one-by-one before a true union develops.
While creating compositions of strong lyrical form, Vitchev also leaves room for the other musicians to improvise; "The Fifth Season" is, perhaps, the best example, with piano and bass improvising over sections and suggesting images of a strange, eerie seasonneither spring, summer, autumn nor winter. Elsewhere, on "Wounded By A Poisoned Arrow," Iago begins softly but then builds to an upswell of sound as the piece reaches its crescendo.
Vitchev's music possesses deep poetical undertones and there are frequent referencesboth in the music and images createdto the guitarist's Bulgarian heritage and classical background. His virtuosity underpins every piece as he delivers gentle, soft riffs and ccomplished accompaniment. The tracks seem to have been written with these musicians in mind, and Vitchev employs their abilities to the full. His guitar leads on most tracks, but each player adds his own touches throughout, making this a rich, full-sounding album with a sense of deep understanding between the players.
Familiar Fields is an album to put on continuous loop, from the opening "Ballad For The Fallen" right through to the last rippling fade of "Willing to Live."
Track Listing: Ballad For The Fallen; Wounded By A Poison Arrow; The Prophet's Daughter; They Are No More; Familiar Fields Part 1; Familiar Fields Part 2; The Mask Of Agememnon; The Fifth Season; Willing To Live.
Personnel: Hristo Vitchev: guitar; Dan Rossins: bass; Weber Iago: piano; Mike Shannon: drums.