During the course of guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski's illustrious career, he has constantly sought fresh ways to express himself or to reconfigure his music. Not a year would go by and he would either be seen fronting his own electric guitar trio, joining forces with other performers either the famous duo with Miroslav Tadic or the Kings of Strings trio (with guitarists Tommy Emmanuel and Stochelo Rosenberg) various film music projects. That frequently gets him in hot water with audiences that would prefer him to either record or perform music like he did with the legendary band Leb I Sol over another or other fans would favor his acoustic, pastoral pieces. But Stefanovski rarely stays in one place, a characteristic which makes every new project seem very intriguing. For his latest endeavor, he joins the ranks of the Big Band Orchestra of the Slovenian Armed Forces as a guest soloist for an interesting set of songs. The Big Band Orchestra of the Slovenian Armed Forces was founded in 1996 and since then it has performed a variety of concerts both for the Slovenian Army or public concerts with many well across the Slovenian borders.
In 2015, to mark its 20th anniversary, the SAF's Big Band decided to invite Vlatko Stefanovski as a guest soloist with a repertoire that includes a variety of both Macedonian and Slovenian folk songs arranged for an orchestra. But the setlist from this live recording encompasses much more than re-arranged folk songs. Eleven out of twelve songs are covers of a variety of tunes starting from classic jazz tunes, both Macedonian and Slovenian folk songs and a fusion era classic like "Stratus" or the funk classic "Pick Up the Pieces." Valley
The set starts with funky renditions of classic jazz tunes such as "A Few Good Men" and "Sing, Sang, Sung" that set the festive mood. With "Stratus" the band and Stefanovski dive deep into his past for a dynamic performance of this gem from the fusion era. It's one of those classics from the '70s that initially fired up his imagination during the times when he was forming his now-legendary band Leb I Sol. "Stratus" is an irresistible burner featuring Stefanovski's guitar virtuosity. The setlist has its own peaks and valleys. The propulsive and upbeat "Stratus" is followed by Stefanovski's classic mid-tempo song "Gypsy Magic" only to be followed by "Koljo" (or "Don't Sell Your Property Koljo" ) and swinging and virtuosic classic. "Zrejlo je žito" is a Slovenian folk song that Vlatko has already performed previously with Slovenian saxophonist Vasko Atanasovski and the Slovenian Philharmonic String Chamber Orchestra (as documented on the Fire and Ice
release) and here it is rendered as a sly groover.
The music truly erupts on the classic "Jovano, Jovanke" and "Kalajdžisko Oro" which are staples in Stefanovski's repertoire. One of the fascinations here is how the big band has translated the arrangements usually done by the Stefanovski's guitar trio. The orchestra is harmonically open, detailed and quick. It is spontaneous and precise. The interaction here means everything. The soloist is equally energized and inspired by the orchestra as the orchestra is inspired and driven by the soloist. As it can be seen from the accompanying DVD even the conductor is taken away by the dynamics of the orchestra and the soloist's sizzling licks and powerful solos as he is trading air guitar licks with Stefanovski in the midst of it. Throughout the whole set, the big band and Stefanovski lock into a feverishly communicative mindset as they anticipate the intensity and the rhythmic shifts and are riding this feel they inspire for all they're worth.
The variety of songs, the shifting of dynamics and the colorful arrangements indicate an album that is upbeat, immaculately tailored and packed with surprise.