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Serbian Jazz Bre Band: Serbian Jazz, Bre

Nenad Georgievski By

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The iconography of jazz wouldn't be the same without jazz photography. It seems that both jazz and photography have been walking hand in hand since the appearance of both arts. Just imagine the dark rooms and cigarette smoke clouds where jazz was happening, and the photography there to bear witness. While photographer William P. Gottlieb is still unsurpassed in this art, even though he stopped taking photographs in 1948, that hasn't prevented a myriad of photographers from taking shots of jazz artists in the ensuing years. Initiated by jazz photographer Ivan Grlić, Serbian Jazz, Bre is a place where photography and music meet. A multimedia project that began in 2001 through photography exhibitions, it culminated in a book with the same title (Srpska Duša, 2012), featuring portraits of some Serbia's most distinguished jazz musicians.

Out of this project came a band consisting of jazz musicians from different generations and experiences, initiated by Grlić and his activities. The Serbian Jazz Bre Band is a potent mix of youthful vigor and the fruitful experience of some of its elder members. Fronted by pianist/chief writer Aleksandar Jovanović Šljuka, this mash-up of youthful panache and maturity seems to have sparked inspiration on both sides of the generational divide. As the title indicates, this is not strictly a classic jazz record, but flits between styles, as the compositions reveal considerable influences of various jazz styles and, in equal measures, Serbian folk melodies.

Those inclinations and influences are evident from the start, with the folkloric melodies of the playful opener "Traveling High," the proceeding to various other tracks like "Vrelo," the tender "Tears of Earth" and, evidently, the folk ballad "Ej vi Magle," sung by Nevena Jelić. Although the ambiances and moods vary with the mix of jazz improvisation, a very virtuosic side to the group's performances is demonstrated through plenty of instrumental battles led by pianist Jovanović and violinist Filip Krumes. "Only Nothing is Enough" resembles pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio, but the spindly, casually sown folkloric melodies are constantly enriched by both the violin and firecracker rhythm section, as the band collectively unfolds them.

On the joyful "Bojerka," Jelić's wordless chanting and the piano shape a sneaking and elegant line over a fat groove that, midway, turns into a drum solo with time stops as the orchestra jumps in various sequences without losing the tempo. Then it proceeds to bring in a touch of soulful funk on "Gavrilo and Gibril Fly Above Constantinople," with its affectionate melodies, as it moves more closely to lounge jazz with soulful inclinations and wordless singing.

The album closes with the short "Bre!," written and performed by legendary trumpeter Stjepko Gut. It's a solo piece and its howling melodies closely evoke the hurried melody of fellow trumpeter Miles Davis' "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down." Gut's playing is effectively overdubbed, creating a layered and echoing sound sculpture.

All of the tracks have a dreamlike quality, and the band—with its strong, melodic playing—contributes equally to transcending genre conventions. There is a conceptual unity that links these tracks into a cohesive achievement and it's rare to encounter a debut album marked by the poise, vision and ambition that distinguishes Serbian Jazz, Bre.

Track Listing: Traveling High; Only Nothing is Enough; Ej vi Magle; Tears on Earth; Vrelo; Bojerka; Gavrilo & Gibril Fly over Constantinople; Bre!.

Personnel: Aleksandar Jovanović: piano, keyboards; Filip Krumes: violin; Nevena Jelić: vocal; Marko Fabry: electric bass; Aleksandar Cvetković: drums; Uroš Šećerov: percussion; Stjepko Gut: trumpet, flugelhorn.

Title: Serbian Jazz, Bre | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Serbian Soul Bre

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