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Hristo Vitchev Quintet: The Perperikon Suite

Dan Bilawsky By

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While Bulgaria and the Monterey Peninsula are worlds apart, culturally and geographically speaking, guitarist Hristo Vitchev successfully reconciled these differences in September of 2010. Vitchev, a Bulgarian-born guitarist living in the San Francisco Bay area, premiered his seven-movement Perperikon Suite at the 53rd Monterey Jazz Festival, and presents this music in stunning fashion on this recording. While the title of the suite takes its name from the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon, located in present day Bulgaria, the music doesn't demonstrate any Eastern European allegiance. In fact, all seven pieces are wholly unique and alien to any single culture or influence.

Shimmering harmonies resonate throughout these modern jazz marvels, and the soloists work their way around and through this accessible and exciting music with equal measures of taste, technique and spirit. Vitchev's pieces are peppered with signpost sonorities and ideas that often reappear throughout a given song, creating a sense of continuity and thematic steadiness that develops around individual soloists. While this group ably establishes its own aural identity, which threads its way through the whole album, each movement of the suite has different strengths and a unique sonic footprint.

Uncertainty and randomness give way to music with the appearance of a processed patina on "The Great Hall," but frenzied solo work from Vitchev, pianist Weber Iago and vibraphonist Christian Tamburr is really at the heart of the matter. Vitchev continually shifts gears on "The Acropolis," moving between intense and driven desires and a more relaxed outlook, and he presents a more exotic locale with "The Northern City." Vitchev and Iago deliver a slew of strong solo performances on the album, but they seem to reach a new level of creativity as they find their way into the very rhythmic fabric of this music.

While the roles of these musicians often overlap throughout the album, drummer Joe DeRose and bassist Dan Robbins have their own unique job descriptions. DeRose drives the music with his busy, yet under the surface, cymbal work, while Robbins anchors the music and provides contrast with his own fluid solo style. Robbins doesn't get quite as much space as some of the other musicians on the album, but his every solo spot draws immediate attention and the band seems to recede into the background ("The Stone Passage"), in order to provide him with an appropriate stage to share his talents.

While The Perperikon Suite contains gentle journeys and ominous encounters along the way, tenderness wins out in the end. "The Southern City," which begins with some graceful piano and arco bass, seduces with its beauty and refinement. Brought to life as a tale of two cities, The Perperikon Suite ultimately occupies its own wondrous world within the confines of its jazz borders.

Track Listing: The Stone Passage; The Palace; The Great Hall; The Shrine of Dionysus; The Acropolis; The Northern City; The Southern City.

Personnel: Hristo Vitchev: guitar; Weber Iago: piano; Christian Tamburr: vibes; Dan Robbins: bass; Joe DeRose: drums.

Title: The Perperikon Suite | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: First Orbit Sounds

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