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Plamen Karadonev: Crossing Lines

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Pianist and accordionist Plamen Karadonev has been down more than a few musical roads in his comparatively young life—playing folk music on television and radio in his native Bulgaria, studying classical music in Sofia, studying jazz at Berklee, gigging around Boston—and many of these meanderings are echoed in the varied music presented on Crossing Lines, his début recording.

Three particularly strong moments serve to chart the territory represented on this record. First, there are the "outside" tracks, among which the best is "Frohleher Landman." Based on a theme (a.k.a "Fröhlicher Landmann") by Romantic wunderkind Robert Schumann, the number charges along at a furious pace, the rhythm practically but not quite unbridled. Here—as on the title track—the soloists head readily to the outer boundaries of mainstream playing. Hal Crook's electronically treated trombone, in particular, sounds pretty engaging, but would risk becoming nauseating were it being listened to while driving on a winding mountain road.

Not all the numbers in this vein work as well as Schumann's merry peasant. Elena Koleva's vocal on "The Island," for example, won't render forgettable Sarah Vaughan's definitive version on Crazy and Mixed Up (Pablo, 1982), with Sir Roland Hanna on piano, though the leader's accordion playing might linger in the mind. Also in this category: Kendall Eddy's weird arco bass effects on "Rondo à la Bulgar," which is somewhat reminiscent Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo à la Turk," perhaps, in the concentrated, percussive piano solo.

Then there are the less frenetic and more "inside" moments, best represented by a languorous "Night and Day," featuring the core trio of Karadonev with bassist Eddy and drummer Austin McMahon. A sensitive "You Must Believe in Spring," again featuring Koleva, and a lovely solo, "Prelude in F," also fall into this category.

The third dimension on Crossing Lines is George Garzone. Any leader who brings the great saxophonist blazing through Coltrane's "Like Sonny" merits unflagging gratitude. Garzone, a master teacher as well as an underappreciated musician, has a pleasing habit of showing up on his former students' records, with great results, another fine example being saxophonist Alex Terrier's recent Stop Requested (Aphrodite, 2007). Karadonev's unpretentious but flawless comping behind Garzone's solo on "Sianic" provides a fine example of his sympathetic approach.

Karadonev commits the typical sin of the talented rookie, which is to take his début record in too many directions. Better, though, to have too many things to say than too few.

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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