Boiling a decade's worth of work down to one CD must be a frustrating yet gratifying process. Frustration likely surrounds the idea of reducing ten years of blood, sweat, composing and performing into a single package, but the recorded evidence of one's artistic growth and reach is the ultimate reward. Such is the case with the music on Now & Then: A Portrait, which serves as a survey of Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca's output from 2000 to 2011.
In selecting a pair of pieces from four different albums released within this span of time, and sweetening the deal with two previously unreleased tracks, Zjaca manages to present a multifaceted musical portrait of an artist in his prime. Three of the albumsA Day In Manhattan (Laika, 2000), Crossing The Border (Nishville, 2007) and Continental Talk (IN+OUT, 2009)are loaded with America all-stars, with musicians like drummers Steve Gadd and Al Foster, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and bassist John Patitucci bringing their best to the sessions, while The Way We Talk (IN+OUT, 2011) showcases an ethnically diverse group of artists; but all of the music revolves around Zjaca's intriguing guitar work and compositions.
Zjaca deals in aural oddities on "Kandinisky Night," waltzes along with Foster and bassist Reggie Workman on "Out Of Body," and crosses cultural lines as he brings quirky and angular European sensibilities to boogaloo music on "The Gate," but those are only three chapters in this compelling musical biography. The connection between Zjaca and Stan Mitrovic is highlighted on two duo numbersthe electronics and effects-enhanced "Katarina" and beautifully serene "Great Ocean Road"and continues on full band tracks like the urgent "Welcome To Our Jungle," which showcases both musicians' solo skills. Zjaca even manages to create music, with some help from accordionist Simone Zanchini, that sounds like a serene, non-Argentine answer to Al Di Meola's World Sinfonia, with bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi.
While the two previously unreleased tracks may by a dangling carrot for Zjaca fans that already own the rest of this music, the entire package is an appetizing musical meal ready to be consumed by those unfamiliar with his work.
Out Of Body; Why We Are Here; The New Life; Welcome To Our Jungle; Great Ocean Road; Kandinsky Night; Then And Now; Katarina; A Friend For Life; The Gate.
Ratko Zjaca: electric guitar (1-4, 6, 7, 9, 10), acoustic guitar (5), 11 string fretless guitar (8), effects (6, 8, 9); Reggie Workman: bass (1, 2); Al Foster: drums (1, 2, 4); John Patitucci: bass (3, 4, 10); Steve Gadd: drums (3, 10); Stan Mitrovic: tenor saxophone (3-5, 8, 10); Simone Zanchini: accordion (6, 9); Martin Gjakonovski: bass (6, 9); Adam Nussbaum: drums (6, 9); Miroslav Vitous: bass (7); Bart Platteau: flute (7); Ben Schroder: drums (7); Randy Brecker : trumpet (10).
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