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Nocturnal Four: Light In The World

Dan Bilawsky By

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Nocturnal Four: Light In The World
A band of the night embraces light. It's an equipoise in interests that propels this outing to great depths and heights.

Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca, long a proponent for cross-cultural exchange in music, uses this dark yet illuminating platform to sow the seeds of accord with a band of brothers from different motherlands. He reunites with Italian saxophonist Stefano Bedetti and Slovenian organist Renato Chicco, who proved to be his perfect match(es) on Life on Earth (In and Out Record, 2018); and he brings American drumming icon John Riley into the fold, giving due respect to an undisputed great who drives this band in inimitable fashion.

The yin-and-yang duality of this music presents itself within the first minute of the title track, which serves as an ideal opener. Skulking lines set the scene and hint at dark dimensions, but a warm organ patina, along with bright, angular lines painted in tight unison, flip the script. It's but the first of many examples of how these men channel the ideals of chiaroscuro in sound to paint indelible art.

The entire program—nine songs in all—showcases not only a simpatico relationship between these four parties, but also a serious sinuous streak in Zjaca's writing. His originals bend and snake around in surprising fashion, but never at the expense of structure, flow and clarity. You never know where this band is going, but the destination always makes sense once it reveals itself.

Zjaca often uses iconic drummers as the wildcards in his bands—Antonio Sanchez occupied the throne on the previous Nocturnal Four date, and Adam Nussbaum, Al Foster and Steve Gadd each contributed deft stick work to different projects from this guitarist—and that strategy always seems to bear fruit. Riley, often lauded for his skills in big band settings and for serious bop chops, brings a forceful undercurrent to some of the music. Trashy hi-hat and crashing tides frequently serve as an impetus for creation early on, and when he hits his stride, he always rides a million dollar feel to fruition. Of course, Riley also remains one of the most tasteful talents around, as his impeccable work in mellower moments, like the entryways to the glimmering "River Spirit" and waltzing "Where To Stay," point out.

There's much to home in on during these performances—Zjaca's slanted sensibilites, Chicco's ability to fill the canvas without ever over-playing his hand(s), Bedetti's open-throated strengths and autodidactic genius, Riley's 360-degree grasp of a drummer's role—but it's the way these four interact with each other that turns out to be the album's greatest gift. Whether trading solos, perfectly locking up prescribed passages or using their ears to guide voicings and movements, there's always a fine balance at play. The results are riveting, so call this a serious score for Nocturnal Four.

Track Listing

Light in the World; Storyteller; Across the Gateway; River Spirit; Where to Stay; Many Miles Away; Heart of Season; Trilogy Evolution; Just Like It Is.

Personnel

Ratko Zjaca: guitar; Stefano Bedetti: saxophone, tenor; John Riley: drums.

Renato Chicco: Hammond C3 organ

Album information

Title: Light In The World | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: In And Out Records

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