In the raft of drummer-led records, many of those lack strong identity. Not this one. As a commanding drummer and compelling composer, drummer Goce Stevkovski stands above the fray. This ubiquitous drummer who is known for his affiliations with various acts to whom he has lent his dynamic yet sensitive groove, bands such as Project Zlust, DNO, Arhangel, Leb i Sol and Kiril Djaikovski, to name but a few, has shown to be a thoughtful composer and ambitious performer. With his focused, fully realized debut as a leader, 7 Stories,
(Password, 2015) Stevkovski delivered with a well-honed concept and put his name and band on the music map. With his second release, Homage to a Dreamer
he adds bandleading instincts to his already impressive list of talents and accomplishments. Homage to a Dreamer
takes off where the debut left off. The writing for this dateall by Stevkovskiis outstanding. It is compelling and melodic, and it balances intricacy and direct pleasure. The septet, is made up of first-rate musicians, some of whom Stevkovski has worked over the past few years, both in the studio and live, like the core group of alto saxophonist Kiril Kuzmanov, trombonist Sashko Nikolovski, keyboardist Damir Imeri, and newcomers and guests such as trumpeter Todor Bakrdjiev, pianist Matyas Gayer and bassist Kiril Tufekcievski. The septet coheres, so all of the players and guests seem responsible for the texture of these performances. The emphasis is on group dynamics and it is here that Stevkovski's vision plays out strongly as each player gets to shine with noteworthy individual contributions and solos.
The album opens on a playful and soulful note with "Monday," a buoyant funk number that falls between vintage Lee Morgan
and Art Blakey
. It reveals a sophisticated rhythmic sensibility, a refined sense of dynamics, along with an urge to swing. Favoring long compositional forms, Stevkovski's music straddles jazz and chamber music with keen attention to rich ensemble textures such as on "Dinner for Two." Flowing phrases provided by Kuzmanov lap over playful and swinging grooves, creating tensions and contrasts that are ultimately quite melodic. Guitarist Dimitar Bozikov, with whom Stevkovski has played with as part of the new Leb i Sol band, provides playful and edgy slide lines that serve as a nice ornamentation. "The Wedding" is a more take-no-prisoners offering with a distinct Latino flavor paced by Stevkovski's funky drummer pulse and a labyrinth of unison lines by Kuzmanov and Bakardjiev. These are followed by nice and warm solos by Imeri and Nikolov. The drummer is dazzling here, morphing the Latin groove into a funk-infused muscle-swing.
The pace dictated by the opening three compositions drops the tempo with "Being There." It's a slow-paced gem where pianist Gayer gets to shine with his bluesy honky-tonk piano lines. "Life" is a more layered composition with the musicians creating a web of horns and a flute. It has a suite-like quality about it that steers into myriad twists and turns and contains an exceptional long solo from Bakrdjiev, where the trumpet melody starts out slowly as a contrast and then begins to interweave dynamically as well until the whole band is engaged. "Not Being There" is a laid-back affair filled with subtle creativity on part of pianist Gayer. This tender ballad portrays an interesting piano stylist with many ingredients under his fingers. The music's tone is reflective, warm and intimate. The album bookends with "Train Station" where the band places a premium on melody and groove over chops, although there are some sizzling licks.
On this record, Stevkovski's squad blends inquisitive playing with an authoritative stance. Stevkovski catapults a soul-jazz formula into new territory with surprise dynamics, orchestral textures, and big-picture arrangements. His compositions are works of art, and the playing in service of them. Homage to a Dreamer
is confirmation of his potential of becoming one of the great jazz authors of his generation.