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Hristo Vitchev and Liubomir Krastev: Rhodopa

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Bulganin modern jazz guitarist Hristo Vitchev resides in the Bay Area and alternates between a variety of jazz formations. On Rhodopa, which is a mountainous region in Bulgaria (named after the character from the Greek mythology known also as Hera, sister of Zeus) he teams with clarinetist Liubomir Krastev who shares with him Bulgarian roots on a program of traditional Bulgarian melodies.

Vitchev arrangements focus on the lyrical and emotional side of this folklore melody. He, on the acoustic guitar and piano, and Krastev are gifted with warm and gentle sounds and articulate nuanced playing. Both musicians opt for a meditative and slow ambiance, as on the touching, impressionistic "Lale Li Si Zyumbiul Li Si (Are You a Tulip, Are You a Hyacinth)." The interaction is peaceful and reserved, and usually Krastevs' playing colors these melodies with Balkan and East European overtones.

On most of the melodies there is no attempt to blend the asymmetric rhythms of the Balkan into modern jazz harmonies in a more upbeat manner as other musicians did successfully—clarinet players Matt Darriau (with his Paradox Trio or Chris Speed (with his quartet Pachora), both with guitarist Brad Shepik. All of the pieces, including the original "Silent Prayer" by Vitchev, explore the emotional core with minimal variations. Only Vitchev original "Blues for Clever Peter," the brief "Improvisation #2" and "Polegnala e Todora (Todora Took a Nap)" begin to hint about how a more playful and festive mode of traditional Bulgarian music would have sound in these capable hands. But even on these pieces the duo still prefers to keep the reserved and lyrical mode of interplay.

Impressive on its emotional and lyrical side. Still, more edgy playing would have balanced this duo.

Track Listing: Devoiko Mart Hubava (Beautiful Young Lady); Oblache Le Bialo (Little White Cloud); Silent Prayer; Improvasation #1; Blues for Clever Peter; Lale Li Si Zyumbiul Li Si (Are You a Tulip, Are You a Hyacinth); Improvisation #2; Polegnala e Todora (Todora Took a Nap); Hubava Si Moia Goro (You Are Beautiful My Forest).

Personnel: Hristo Vitchev: guitar, piano; Liubomir Krastev: clarinet.

Title: Rhodopa | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: First Orbit Sounds

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