Serbian-born, Chicago-based guitarist Zvonimir Tot opens up his second CD as a leader, Blue Quest, with the old American church hymn, "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." There's reverence in the sound, but it's not a tranquil or meditative approach. Tot and his triowhich includes bassist Larry Gray and drummer Charles Heathsoup the tune up considerably. It sounds as if that dude with whom they are walking is a pretty hip guy, and is not in anyway averse to getting deep into the groove.
The group has a beefy, hard-driving edge, with lots of unabashed extroversion. Tot's distinctive approach and tonesingle notes and harmoniesrings with a juiced up reverberance.
The title tune is a slow, muscular, groove, a bluesy sound tinted with some gypsy colors; and "Groove Me Wah" has a South Side of Chicago feeling, with Tot's solos brimming with batches of sharp, succinct notes.
With the exception of the church hymn opening number, all of the compositions on Blue Quest are from Tot's pen. His "Lady Agatha," for the British mystery writer Agatha Christie, has a deliberate delicacy, a ballad that unfolds at a measured pace, with Tot's playing glowing with a beautifully ethereal quality. "Prince of Belgium" is dedicated to Philip Catherine, a guitarist with a distinct European sound. Tot's dedication has a more American, rock music quality. "Wiretap This" features an ominous bass line and some of Tot's most fiery playing.
The set's second tune, "Dear Maestro," for the Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, feels like a misstep. It has some background string soundssynthesizers is the guessand is a pretty piece of work, but it breaks the grooving, sometimes gritty mood of the disc, and might have been better placed at the end of the show.
Blue Quest is a very fine introduction to a new guitarist on the jazz scene.
Just a Closer Walk With Thee; Dear Maestro (for Marricone); Blue Quest; Groove Me Wah; Lady Agatha; Prince of Belgium (for Philip Catherine); Gray Matter; Wiretap This; Fugue for Mr. N.P.; Above and Within (Ron's Song).
Zvonimir Tot: guitar; Larry Gray: bass; Charles Heath: drums.
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