Critically acclaimed guitarist Hristo Vitchev is back to talk about his new release with clarinet master Liubomir Krastev for a impeccable new release, Rhodopa
Tell us about the new release. You started the year with the highly acclaimed Familiar Fields and now it would appear you have just hit another one out of the park. Why the addition of the clarinet into the mix?
H.V. - "Thank you so much for the kind words Brent. I'm so grateful that the new quartet record has been received so well by people all around the world and we are currently touring with the band in the west coast of the US. The "Rhodopa" project - which is the new duet record I'm releasing in 2 weeks was something I actually starting working on even before Familiar Fields was recorded. I always had a fascination for the richly melodic and rhythmic world of Bulgarian folklore. I had grown up with it and it was an important part of my life. However, I had never spent the time to go back and really dig in deeper and discover what I had to say in musical terms about it. It was not until last year that I thought I was ready to take a chance at this. The complexity is that some of the traditional wind instruments that are used in Bulgarian music are not played outside of Bulgaria. My good friend and virtuoso clarinetist Liubomir Krastev came to mind right away. He can make the clarinet sound like just about anything. From a bagpipe to a traditional flute like instrument called: kaval. I also knew that I wanted to keep the music as free and elastic in form as possible so that I could capture the deep emotional character of Bulgarian Music. The duo format seemed to work perfectly for that. In a way this is a conversation of two friends who simply share a deep love for music, culture, and tradition and I really hope the listeners can hear that in the recording. Even the recording process itself was very simple. We stuck a few mics in a room and sat down and played. It is something that so far I had not done in my recording career. I really loved the honesty and sincerity that was captured on tape."
In keeping with the clarinet, I realize the Bulgarian folklore influence is predominant here. In a recent chat you spoke of the use of quarter tones etc...How did you find the hybrid of bringing your cultural influence into a setting with modern jazz harmonies? Did some extra T-L-C go into this effort?
H.V. -"Yes, you are right. The role of Liubomir in this project/recording is very predominant. Bulgarian folklore is really sophisticated and rich in the melodic and rhythmic side of things and not so much on the harmonic one. I really tried to capture that. I wanted the clarinet to really carry these multidimensional sonic hues forward and yet having me support them with a new tapestry of harmonic landscapes that borrow from the western/American contemporary jazz world. There are plenty of times where Liubomir plays in quarter tonal melodic systems and yet these sounds work perfectly well over the western chord harmonies I provided. I found such melodic/harmonic tension so beautiful. It is the closest it gets to the essence of life itself. I also used a few different Irish tunings on the rhythmic guitar parts to provide for a more open/wider support of such complex melodies."
You are considered an impressionistic guitarist which of course mirrors your talent as a visual artist. How does this merge into your creative force when composing?
H.V. - "Even though I would love to be considered a visual artist, I think at this stage I'm still very amateur on that front, but nonetheless I have immense fun painting and drawing...As all my fans know, I always paint the covers of my records and not only that but I always start from the cover. When the inspiration strikes, I always paint something first, make a cover and then I sit at the piano to write some music. :-) Somehow these activities one can not control. They just happen on their own when the time is right."
I heard the first single and it is one of the more beautiful pieces I have heard in some time. Can you describe the emotional aspect of composing and were you going for a conceptual flow for this record?
H.V. - "Thank you so much Brent. The first single we released from the record (Are you a Tulip, Are you a Hyacinth) is a very old folk melody from Bulgarian folklore that also has some very beautiful lyrics, which essentially talk about a young man who happens to meet one day the most beautiful lady and he is so enchanted by her beauty that he can only compare her to the most beautiful of flowers...and he is trying to decide is she is a tulip or a hyacinth, and at the end he says that such beauty can only be the most beautiful of flowers in the world which is the rose...Most of the record is comprised of old folkloric melodies that I arranged, re-harmonized, and developed into larger compositions by writing variations on a theme on the original line. There are also a few originals I wrote for the session trying to capture the nuances of this particular kind of music. There are also a few completely improvised takes that just happened between takes, when the mics were still on, and we just happened to be playing...Most of the inspiration for the session and the recording of this album was really re-connections with cherished memories, memories from loved ones who have let this dimension, family heritage, traditions, and most importantly trying to embrace one's life journey, roots, and cultural heritage...As for conceptual flow of the record - yes, as always I tried to capture and paint a full story. Hopefully the listeners will feel and connect with such journey.I do believe the record will make more sense if listened from beginning to to end at once."
Two records of such high quality in the same year certainly catapults you to artist of the year for this critic. Is it too early to think about another project or are you content to let this one marinate a bit?
H.V. -"Wow, that is such an honor already. I just try to do what I love and believe in the most while trying to do it as honestly and sincerely as I humanly can. If the listeners can give me their time and ears even for a split second to hear my story I am more than content. As for taking time off - that is not even an option on my table. :-) I feel more inspired than ever...I will be releasing another record before the year is over - this one is an electric jazz/fusion project that I'm so excited about. I co-compose for it with my great friend and musical brother - drummer Joe DeRose. The record is called "Peace Streets" and will be officially released in October...Then I'm working on recording the very interesting body of work I co-composed with pianist Weber Iago for our band SEVA and finally I'm already composing new material for the next Hristo Vitchev Quartet record. So you will be hearing from me. :-)"
As always my sincere thanks to guitar virtuoso Hristo Vitchev and we will be hearing more before year end!