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Plamen Karadonev: Crossing Lines

Budd Kopman By

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Crossing Lines, the debut recording by pianist Plamen Karadonev (who also plays accordion), is a marvelous and continually surprising creation. While the music is mainstream at its base, it continually veers into complex harmonies and dramatic structures, bringing excitement and a delicious sense of danger.

What might appear as a sudden supernova, Karadonev, who is now thirty, began his musical career twenty years ago in Bulgaria, melding folk, classical and jazz musics into his personal style. Arriving at the Berklee College of Music in 2001 on a scholarship, Karadonev readily absorbed everything presented before him.

Karadonev has that something which is relatively rare and which marks the true improviser. He is in complete command technically and rhythmically assured, and yet is never complacent or predictable. The arrangements sound extremely organic but have a built-in precision from which the excitement of the unknown originates.

One could listen to the opening title track, a nine-minute masterpiece, a dozen times and still never tire of it. Much credit for this must go the musicians that surround Katadonev and who get inside his music. Drummer Lee Fish teams up with bassist Kendall Eddy to create an electrifying sizzle behind the piano. Trombonist Hal Crook, who also adds an electronic doubler to his horn (a "trom-o-tizer") takes advantage of the open structure and harmony and flies.

Just as important as the individual performances is the dramatic structure of the track. Starting with a unique sharply rhythmic intro by the whole band, the piece moves into a suspenseful piano trio section that is expertly built by Karadonev as he moves in and out of the main harmony. The folk theme is prepared and then the band takes off, with the pianist leaving lots of space, playing in sentences. The drive then pulls back to allow Crook to play freely at first, then slowly builds his solo. Tension continues to increase as Karadonev comments on Crook's phrases, and the drama is palpable, until the band again pulls back, but managing to keep us holding our breath. All is expertly organized and executed creating a thrilling sensation—and this is only the first track!

What follows are a number of other originals and truly unique arrangements. Cole Porter's "Night And Day" is given an amazing treatment that is almost orchestral and with an undertone of Ahmad Jamal's version of "Poinciana," including drummer Lee Fish playing Vernell Fournier-like cymbals.

Robert Schumann's "Frohleher Landman," which you ought to recognize, is taken for real ride, including a killer solo by Boston saxophonist George Garzone, one of Karadonev's teachers, followed by Crook, who will not be outdone, and then the pianist himself, who more than holds his own while continually referencing the theme.

It is clear from Crossing Lines that Karadonev is a major "new" talent, and further evidence that jazz is truly an art of the individual and not a style in which to be squeezed. Outstanding!

Track Listing: Crossing Lines; Night And Day; Rondo ala Bulgar; Like Sonny; Sianie; Frohleher Landman; Prelude in F; You Must Believe in Spring; The Island.

Personnel: George Garzone: saxophone (4, 5, 6); Hal Crook: trombone, trom-o-tizer (1, 6); Elena Koleva: vocals (5, 8, 9); Plamen Karadonev: piano, keyboards, accordion; Kendall Eddy: bass; Austin McMahon: drums (2-5, 7-9); Lee Fish: drums (1, 6).

Title: Crossing Lines | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Mu Records


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