Critical to the success of this live album by the VHB is the fact that this band is, at its core, a working band. If you have seen VHB live, you will recognize that this album faithfully relays both the showmanship and ingenious punch of this unit. Obviously, this installment of the VHB is a highly maneuverable vessel that is capable of executing a multitude of ideas, be it electronica, African, free jazz or rock ideas. The stage is the right place for this versatile band to record its music as even in a studio setting they need eye contact for the magic to occur.
Recorded during a tour throughout Serbia, Alive appropriately extends and distends jazz and various other forms. For a start, it avoids the Weather Report-styled arrangements which were typical of Hadžimanov's writing style. It opens with "Nocturnal Joy," a lengthy and thoughtful track which many sections make it unexpectedly very exciting. The first section is driven by pulsating keyboards, simple piano melodic lines and jungle beats which dimly have more in common with the band that Hadžimanov has played in parallel to VHBDarkwood Dub than anything else. After an abrupt stop, there is an alto sax break where saxophonist Binney explores the far reaches of his instrument. This serves as an entrance into a more jovial and freer section.
"Zulu" is driven by a propulsive beat and a swirling African styled guitar. It's an exhilarating track even more so when Binney starts playing short, hypnotic, repetitive phrases. After a stormy start, the dynamics are slowed down and this section is driven by tribal drums, processed vocal chants and Binney's fierce soloing. Generally speaking, he has a galvanizing effect on the band and his saxophone shines like a beacon amidst the flurry of this ensemble work. All of this moves towards a dramatic ending in the form of a mesmerizing interplay between Hadzimanov and Binney. Both "Odlazim" and "Dolazim" are fluid tracks that are in constant motion and are more volatile in interplay. "Razbolje se Šimšir List" is a Bosnian folk song which the duo of Hadžimanov on acoustic piano and Binney on soprano sax has turned it into a lilting ballad.
The set closes with the lengthy "Otkriće snova," another electronic piece much in the manner of the opening song, but soon morphs into a fusion piece in the manner of "In a Silent Way." In recent years, Hadzimanov has experienced an upward trajectory as an educator, composer, pianist, and keyboardistr. As a result, his compositions are more mature and he has achieved a compositional excellence. He shines brightly both on stage and off, but he allows his band to shine too. His band is playing at the peak of its powers and he has a very balanced relationship with his sideman. What truly shines on this record are the compositions. Delicacy, dynamics, empathy, and a deep affinity is what emanates from these compositions. Alive is easily VHB's best album.
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