At the end of the year critics are besieged with requests to list our "Best Of.." list for that year. Guitarist Hristo Vitchev was on my list for his release Heartmony and singled out as artist of merit for 2012. Artist of Merit? The ability to transcend genre and move to a spatial consciousness few can or have ever achieved.
Colors you can touch. Emotions that are real and timeless in not only their technical progression but in their unique ability to tap into the human spirit. Vitchev is the best kept secret in jazz but his music is much more than defined by one arbitrary label as his latest release Familiar Fields streets on Jan. 28th 2013. The 4tet assembled here includes long time musical compatriot Weber Iago on piano along with Dan Robbins on bass and the addition of drummer Mike Shannon adding additional texture and the subtle yet deceptively complex rhythmic pulse necessary to move effortlessly from modern classical to jazz to what many would label "experimental" music but always with the trade mark harmonic gift of movement that is Hristo Vitchev.
Cover art is now often ignored in the day of the digital download and Vitchev contributes original oil paintings as the cover art for his solo work with the colors literally a mirror image of the sound and direction of his compositions. Vitchev's music is truly a mirror image as to who he is as an artist and the fearless he maintains in literally putting his heart and soul on public display with each release. Opening with "Ballad For The Fallen" we find a more bright and breezy modern jazz approach with Iago's comp work filling in the musical shades of gray some artists would normally leave hanging. Robbins and Shannon work hand in glove with Robbins showing his lyrical bass skills with a solo that pops with vitality and direction. Vitchev is as technical proficient and perhaps one of if not the most artistic guitarist today. Good guitar players are a dime a dozen, they play the notes but like the ability to tap into something on a more personal level and make the music. There is a zen like quality of less is more with this tune as everyone is contributing clean harmonically adventurous solos without overshadowing Vitchev as the leader. Consider this more of a musical collective than a traditional jazz 4tet. The term "jazz" is simply too limiting here. Vitchev's clean and somewhat angular solos continue throughout the release in the spirit of a Pat Metheny or John Abercrombie. Familiar Fields works as Vitchev establishes his own voice to join such well established company. "The Fifth Season" has a whimsical dynamic tension thanks to an odd time signature but with nothing pretentious or self indulgent which is often the case for musicians determined to go this route. Simple yet cinematic with a three dimensional sonic depth of field allowing this tune to be a prime example of the versatility Vitchev brings to the table. Closing with a more classically oriented "Willing To Leave" we are treated to a more modern classical hybrid with an Eastern European touch added for flavor. Vitchev recording are distinctive in their use of texture and well timed flavor to keep the listener guessing as to which sonic road less traveled he may choose with each subsequent tune.
Familiar Fields has a highly emotional content, if you are not touched in some way then you may be waiting for your autopsy report to come back. This release is a clear statement from an artist comfortable with who he is and where he is going. There are no absolute truths in music but instead there are shades of gray which Vitchev and his 4tet fill in with the precision of a surgeon and the soul of a true artist. Never caught up in the academics of his works, Vitchev instead conducts a sonic exploratory with the end result a release that gives up something new with each subsequent spin. An ebb and flow unmatched or perhaps unlike Vitchev, an ebb and flow that other artists simply can not match.
As close to perfect as it gets - AGAIN.
Tracks: Ballad for the Fallen; Wounded By A Poison Arrow; The Prophet's Daughter; They Are No More; Familiar Field Part 1; Familiar Fields Part 2; The Mask of Agamemnon; The Fifth Season; Willing To Live.
Personnel: Hristo Vitchev: guitar, composer; Weber Iago; piano; Dan Robbins: bass; Mike Shannon; drums.
You can also find and sample my review and this release on CD Baby