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Hristo Vitchev Quartet: Familiar Fields

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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There's a poignant scene in the film Gladiator (DreamWorks/Universal, 2000), where the film's hero, Maximus—played by actor and guitarist, Russell Crowe—flashes back on the lush fields of his far away farm home. There's a longing, a yearning sense in that memorable, moving sequence. Those fields pull at his heart.

With Familiar Fields, his fifth CD as leader, guitarist Hristo Vitchev and his crew sends up a stimulating and engaging recording that is metaphorically dream-like. From start to finish, this is an emotionally moving performance where the musical fields presented are wistful, joyfully peaceful and somewhat bittersweet.

Originally from Bulgaria and now residing in California's Bay Area, Vitchev's tonal view—as guitarist, composer and leader—is textural, layered and elegant. Departing from the programmatic concept he's employed in his prior recordings, Familiar Fieldsis not a concept album. However, Vitchev's sly mixture of jazz, New Age and classical timbres clearly allow for programmatic interpretation.

Vitchev's playing is direct and lyrical. As a technician, he shines, but, he doesn't overpower or bore. Pat Metheny is an obvious stylistic influence on a guitarist whose forays into extended improvisation seal the comparison. As composer, Vitchev writes in an elegantly simple style. His pristine melodies easily spew forth extended solos and tonal interplay between the participants ("Wounded by a Poisoned Arrow").

There's much beauty here and somewhat of a melancholic European overtone ("The Mask of Agamemnon" "The Fifth Season"). If musical textures can be visual, then Familiar Fields can certainly be described as cinematic.

Much could be said about pianist Weber Iago's gorgeous playing; his touch and harmonic approach are sublime ("They Are No More," "Willing to Live"). Bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Mike Shannon create a solid harmonic and rhythmic foundation, enabling textures to flourish. There's great stylistic congruency, energy and focus among the performers.

Familiar Fields is a highly intelligent, thought-provoking Impressionistic escapade.

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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