A consistently creative guitarist and composer, Hristo Vitchev has long been a fixture in the San Francisco Bay area. Familiar Fields is his fifth album as a leader, all of which feature pianist Weber Iago (including two duet sets). Also on Familiar Fields is bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Mike Shannon.
Each of the musicians is very important to the music for, although the guitarist contributed all nine songs, he clearly had these players in mind when writing the songs (or at least Iago and Robbins since Shannon is a new member of the group). While there are excellent solos on each selection, it is the sound of the quartet in the ensembles and when accompanying each other that is particularly memorable. The musicians listen closely to the lead voices and fill in the backgrounds so gracefully and logically that the music often seems completely written-out (which it isn’t) and a bit cinematic.
Vitchev’s tone sometimes recalls Pat Metheny a little but his ideas are very much his own. The guitarist’s improvisations are a logical outgrowth of his melodies, generally being thoughtful although showing heat and impressive technique when it fits the music. Iago’s playing is similar, with his solos often continuing from where the guitarist left off. The bass playing of Robbins is outstanding throughout and his communication with the other musicians seems to border on the telepathic. Drummer Shannon’s subtle playing is as much felt as heard
The nine pieces, which range from ballads to medium-tempo romps, form a suite of intriguing postbop jazz. While the highpoint is probably the two part “Familiar Fields” (which is subtitled “Departure” and “Return”), the music as a whole is memorable. One will not go away from Familiar Fields humming the melodies but listeners will certainly enjoy the overall experience.
Hristo Vitchev’s latest CD is easily recommended and available from www.hristovitchev.com.
by Scott Yanow (Jazz Historian/Writer)
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