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Hristo Vitchev Quartet: Familiar Fields

Karl Ackermann By

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The nine original compositions that make up Familiar Fields were conceived by composer/guitarist Hristo Vitchev between the releases of Song for Messambria (First Orbit Sounds, 2009) and his seven-movement Perperikon Suite (Self Produced, 2011). Vitchev wisely decided that these pieces deserved a home of their own, and that choice is more than validated here. Sharing instrumental leads with frequent collaborator, pianist Weber Iago, Familiar Fields once again demonstrates Vitchev's lyrical clarity and his ability to convey emotion.

"Ballad for the Fallen" sets the stage for much of what follows on Familiar Fields. It is a multidimensional piece that quickly shifts in tone and tempo as it progresses. Opening in a funky vein, it cycles from Vitchev's lead to a fine solo from bassist Dan Robbins, then returns to a fast-paced guitar solo. About four minutes into the piece, Iago has the first of many significant piano solos. "Wounded by a Poison Arrow," despite the threatening title, is one of the lighter pieces in the collection as Vitchev and Iago maneuver around each other's playing at speeds that require considerable agility.

On the first two tracks, the quartet's new drummer, Mike Shannon, is brisk and articulate; he moves and repositions the pieces with subtlety and dexterity, transitioning into "The Prophet's Daughter" by bringing the tempo down to a more moderate pace before Iago takes a fast-paced solo and then gives way to Robbins, slowing the pace again with a solo of his own. "They Are No More" is the first ballad in the collection and provides the lead-in to the two-part title track; "Part I" having an initial dramatic flair provided by Iago's weighty chords. "Part II" begins at a comparative whisper as Iago gently ushers in a variation on the theme before igniting a fast-paced improvisation.

"The Fifth Season" has both Latin and classical undercurrents that Iago deftly juxtaposes before he frees himself up for some of the album's most creative improvising . It's not long before Vitchev matches Iago's resourcefulness with a lightning quick solo. "Willing to Live" closes the set, beginning as a slow-paced ballad with Iago in the lead. Each member of the quartet joins in individually, working their way to Shannon, who utilizes the brushes and cymbals in this meditative conclusion.

Within Vitchev's tone and technique, it's not difficult to hear the influences of Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny and Lee Ritenour. He is adept at the full range of extended techniques but is most often described—justifiably—as an impressionist. A melodious and expressive tone dominates much of his playing and the Grammy-nominated Iago matches his instrumental abilities. The music on Familiar Fields should have widespread affinity among fans of lyrical innovation.

Track Listing: Ballad For The Fallen; Wounded By A Poison Arrow; The Prophet's Daughter; They Are No More; Familiar Fields Part 1; Familiar Fields Part 2; The Mask Of Agememnon; The Fifth Season; Willing To Live.

Personnel: Hristo Vitchev: guitar; Dan Robbins: bass; Weber Iago: piano; Mike Shannon: drums.

Title: Familiar Fields | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: First Orbit Sounds

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