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While jazz as an art form always moves forward, it is also tied to tradition and the music of the past. Many jazz musicians with European ties have found inspiration in the folk music of their country: Jan Johansson's Jazz på svenska, Dag Arnesen's Norwegian Song 1-3 and Sunna GunnlaugsSongs from Iceland are some of the most notable examples.
Hristo Vitchev's Rhodopa could easily be added to this list. While Vitchev has moved to San Francisco and become an important addition to its jazz scene, he was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. On Rhodopa, he explores five traditional Bulgarian songs and adds two improvisations and two original compositions. On his previous effort, Familiar Fields (First Orbit Sounds, 2013), the focus was on the form of the quartet and the electric guitar, but here Vitchev plays acoustic guitar in an intimate duo setting with clarinetist Liubomir Krastev. It is a joy to listen to their communication as they unfold the arabesque Bulgarian folk melodies and make them dance and glow with lyricism, but the real scoop of the album is the original ballad "Silent Prayer" where Vitchev also plays piano. The poignant melody is introduced on the piano while the clarinet slowly soars and the delicate texture of Vitchev's guitar is thrown into the mix.
The composition develops with subtle synthesizer sounds that envelops the song in a warm mist. This is the kind of beauty that wouldn't feel out of place on a sampler from the label Windham Hill. To some people, this might sound as bad thing, but here it is meant as something positive and it would be interesting if Vitchev and Krastev would explore that sound and aesthetic in the future.
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).
I was first exposed to jazz while learning to play chess with my uncles. They would play smooth jazz, and then switch up to more standard types of jazz. But, when they played Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, I was
hooked and I haven't looked back.