Joe DeRose and Hristo Vitchev have been musical collaborators for years. Joe was in the Hristo Vitchev Quartet with Dan Robbins (bass) and Weber Iago (keyboards) and the same line-up appeared with saxophonist Dann Zinn in Joe DeRose and Amici’s first album “Sounds for the Soul” which was released on Vitchev’s record label First Orbit Sounds.
The line-up remains the same for the second album with the exception of Murray Low taking the keyboard role. This album “Peace Streets” is also on the First Orbit Sounds label and is a brilliant continuation of the sound created by this group.
That sound jumps out with full fusion energy on the very first track “New Frontiers” and, at the 1:00 mark, the piece turns lyrically without losing its energy and drive. The opening track gives a quick taste of all the band members and it is spectacular from the start.
The double-pedaling Joe DeRose maintains the efficient drive as Dann Zinn’s sax is highlighted while Dan Robbins’ bass thunders from below. Murray Low takes over with the keys for rapid-fire brilliance before Robbins gets his own solo. Finally, Hristo’s sizzling guitar sets up a drum feature full of precision and punch. From lightning to lyricism, this is a ride that requires seat belts.
As on the first Amici album, Joe DeRose and Hristo Vitchev co-wrote most of the songs. Hristo once remarked, "I usually approach writing from a harmonic perspective, then the melody. And the last thing I think about is the groove. With Joe, we'll start with the groove, and he'll start singing the melodic line. His sense of melody comes from a vocal perspective, and it's a very lyrical approach, almost like creating a pop tune."
The results are something very different from Hristo’s other albums which have been described as “Impressionistic soundscapes.” If Hristo’s other albums are like Claude Monet’s blending colors, then this is like Georges Seurat with his precise pointilism.
If familiar with the works of Hristo’s quartet, then the hearer may be surprised and yet...not so. It is indeed consistent with the movement and elegance of what is heard on then quartet recordings. After all, they were all in it together with the exceptions of Low and Zinn.
“So It Is!” is the second track and is opened with Hristo’s guitar which is quickly joined by Zinn;s sax doubling on the melody. A Spyro Gyra vibe is created which is cool and exciting at the same time. Hristo shows himself as a completely versatile virtuoso as Joe DeRose and Dan Robbins are tight in the pocket.
The composition is brilliant and opens room for great performances by the assembled musicians. This has always been a hallmark of Hristo’s writing craft--he lets the others truly explore and share.
As broad-brushed exposition on melody is found in “Native Son.” While the lead instruments do get individual spotlight time, it is the corps which carries the broad theme over as the sax is most pronounced with Dann Zinn’s marvelous touch. His time with Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard was, obviously, well-spent.
“Native Reprise” pushes him up again as Hristo’s crunchy guitar swings behind. Joe and Dan Robbins get a cool swing going as Hristo shades the sax from above. The guitar is masterfully wielded in frenetic distinction to Zinn’s sax. This was a fun one.
“In a Moment’s Time” almost makes this band look like they are masquerading as South Florida boys. Small wonder since DeRose and Low are masters of Latin Jazz. The rhythm section is beautifully together as the melody is given firm footing from which to spring.
This is followed by “After the Storm” which contains great moments of pairing between bass and keys and then bass and guitar as the lead is traded between sax and guitar. Murray Low then gets a lead and reveals why he is so desired as a musician. Dann Zinn gets his own moments of sheer lyrical beauty in this piece and the song ends long before you are ready for it to end.
Joe Horner contributed one of the coolest bass lines ever for “Smiles for Miles.” Fortunately, Horner graciously let Joe record it with Dan Robbins.
Zinn contributes beautiful intonations followed by staccato punches in accordance with that bass line funk. The track also features some of Low’s most effective keyboard work. Hristo climbs high with that incredible skill of his as Joe and Dan keep the whole thing anchored with that unbelievable groove. Good Lord.
“Silent Prayer” is the second of the Hristo-only compositions and it features full-bodied harmonies on top of what can only be described as a reverent melody. The song first appeared on Hristo’s album with Liubomir Krastev entitled “Rhodopa.”
As I described it in my review of that album, “supplication gives way to thanksgiving” as the movement goes “from hymn to jazz and back to hymn in a progression that is wondrously revealing of the nature of prayer and meditation.” The piece ends with the sweet fulfillment that comes from emptying oneself.
“Just About 8” is a great showcase for Dann Zinn at his melodic and lyrical best while the rhythm section is in lock-step. Great pacing and melody makes this a very enjoyable piece.
However, one amazing example of the unity exhibited by this quintet is found in “The Spirit of the Room.” Given their long history together it should not comes as a surprise and Hristo himself gets deserved attention with his ascendent guitar solo. Robbins contributes a sweet, virtuosic solo, as well.
Beneath it all, DeRose establishes an Afro-Cuban groove which is situated nicely with the bass. The track features a drum solo from the bandleader himself as Hristo paints a vivid soundscape before the song closes with a hot stop. So well done. The piece is an on-point example of the vocal melody that Joe contributes.
The eleventh track is the third of Hristo’s solo compositions. He shows again his generous understanding of how to best use the musicians with him. The melody is touching and warm and the musicians respond with their own warmth and understanding.
It is an emotional piece as so many of Hristo’s works are. There is the joy of friendship and affection found here. It is a fine piece for Low’s delicate keyboard work. The slow melody of the Zinn sax is extraordinary while the tempo is like a stroll on the edge of memory.
“Peace Streets” closes the album and it is a fine and fitting end. It is always fascinating which songs are chosen to finish a CD or LP. “Peace Streets” is almost the inevitable end for this album with its summation of the preceding tracks but also with its sense of sending off the listener back into the world. The admonition is to carry the heart and spirit of Peace into the streets. The encouragement and exhortation of the work is almost like the issuing of marching orders.
The track is a work of beauty to bring down the curtain on a work of beauty. When all is finished, there is only one thing left to do...turn it on again.
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