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Ratko Zjaca / Simone Zanchini: The Way We Talk

Karl Ackermann By

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Little more than a year ago, the great Croation guitarist, Ratko Zjaca, released the terrific Continental Talk (In + Out Records 2009) with his longtime collaborator, saxophonist, Stanislav Mitrovic, and some all-star American support. Not content to follow even a highly successful formula, Zjaca has teamed with Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini, Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum for The Way We Talk. Zjaca's new—but still global—quartet represents a change, not only in group structure, but in its break with traditional instrumentation. Individually, Zjaca and Zanchini contribute original compositions to this surprisingly adventurous outing; as co-leaders, their distinct approaches find common ground and unique harmonies across a range of jazz styles.

The accordion's appearance in American jazz dates back to Bennie Moten's Orchestra in the '40s but it has hardly been a mainstay over the years, given its inexact musical nature. More recently, Guy Klucevsek brought the accordion to avant-garde places, with John Zorn and others. Zanchini's techniques are expansive, and throughout The Way We Talk, he encompasses styles from free jazz to ballads with a few tastefully arranged electronics to enhance the effect. From the opening "Pippo," Zanchini dispels any preconceptions that the accordion is only for polka. He rapidly fires off articulate notes that give way to Zjaca's decidedly improvised lead, and then a brief solo from Nussbaum. "Twilight Time Again" slows to mid-tempo and a more melodic line. Here, the synergy between Zjaca and Zanchini gels as they play off each other with the dexterity of a long-established frontline.

"La Stanza Di Arturo" is a unique combination of mainstream swing and inventive rhythms. Nussbaum's driving beat propels the piece at breakneck speed, while Zjaca and Zanchini trade some sizzling leads. Dedicated to Miroslav Vitous, "Kandinsky Night" is dominated by a free jazz sensation, with some electronics augmenting the piece, but it is "Morgagni Est" that comes as close to the fringe as the accordion can go. Lest it become too easy to get caught up in the novel aspects of this collection, there is Zjaca's superb guitar work on pieces like "Frida Is Vanished," where his lucid and bluesy expressions substantiate his solid reputation as one of Eastern Europe's finest musicians and composers. Whether on the somewhat funky "Out Of Body," or the plaintive "A Friend For Life," Zjaca plays with great emotion and technique.

While both Gjakonovski and Nussbaum are positioned lower in the mix, they keep a nuanced control over each piece, letting the tension build on the faster numbers while never precluding the possibility that something might explode. On Zjaca's beautiful ballad, "A Forest Of Love," the co-leaders perform as a duo, with Zanchini recalling the great bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, and Zjaca's personal but open melodic monologue. Zjaca and Zanchini have created something very different in The Way We Talk. The temptation to resort to clichés, when incorporating an outlier such as the accordion is great. These two master musicians are never overly reserved or exaggerated on this fine collection.

Track Listing: Pippo; Twilight Time Again; Kandinsky Night; One Mind Temple; Frida Is Vanished; Morgagni Est; La Stanza Di Arturo; The Forest Of Love; Adam And Eva; A Friend For Life; Out Of Body

Personnel: Ratko Zjaca: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, baritone guitar, effects; Simone Zanchini: accordion, live electronics; Martin Gjakonovski: acoustic bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

Title: The Way We Talk | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: In + Out Records

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