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Hristo Vitchev and Liubomir Krastev: Rhodopa (2013)

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Hristo Vitchev and Liubomir Krastev: Rhodopa How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

As artists continue to explore new musical vistas, some, Ulysses-like will return home to explore their ethno-musical roots and look to gather new wine from older grapes. Such is the example of this unique and very exquisite recording.

With Rhodopa, Bay Area guitarist/composer Hristo Vitchev and clarinetist Liubomir Krastev meld musical minds, dive exuberantly into an array of earthy Bulgarian folk material and come up with four hands of beauty. The result is a panoply of aural color, emotion, technical artistry—and even a slice of good humor, e.g. "Polegnala e Todora"—which translates as "Todora Took a Nap."

The material here is indeed somewhat of an acquired taste. It's elegantly simple, but not simplistic. Heavily minor-key infused, it has a modern New Age feel as Vitchev's guitar lays down extended droning harmonic platforms—both slower and up-tempo—around and above which Krastev whirls and twirls with his fingers flying. And, while there are two improvised selections, "Improvisation #1" and the dervish-like "Improvisation #2," there is little pure jazz improvisation. Rather, Vitchev and Krastev rely on their respective technical skills to create and develop neat ideas within the framework at hand.

The Bulgarian-born Vitchev, as on his prior recording, Familiar Fields (First Orbit Sounds Music, 2012), delivers some beautifully composed originals—the gorgeous hymn-like "Silent Prayer" being a highlight. His skillful guitar and piano playing display great respect for the material (and for his partner) and he's utterly effusive with feeling. Krastev is a technical virtuoso on his clarinet, with a beautifully mellow, arboreal sound all across the instrument. Both he and Vitchev display prowess without allowing their chops to overshadow the significant emotional feeling of the music, for example, "Blues for Clever Peter"—a jaunty little head which is musically a world apart from its 12-bar title description.

While Rhodopa has its musical roots in older traditional folk music, as presented here by these two outstanding musicians, its sounds and emotional weight are as modern and as stimulating as this morning's Starbucks enjoyed in Sofia.

Track Listing: Devoiko Mari Hubava (Beautiful Young Lady); Oblache Le Bialo (Little White Cloud); Silent Prayer; Improvisation #1; Blues for Clever Peter; Lale Li Si, Zyumbiul Li Si (Are You a Tulip, Are You a Hyacinth); Improvisation #2; Polegnala e Todora (Todora Took a Nap); Hubava Si Moia Goro (You Are My Beautiful Forest).

Personnel: Hristo Vitchev: guitar, piano; Liubomir Krastev: clarinet.

Record Label: First Orbit Sounds


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