For most people, Ratko Vojtek is the bass-clarinet player of Zagreb Philharmonic, whereas this project presents him as a versatile piano player, too. The repertory presented ranges from baroque piece by Telemann over a cast of various jazz-composers to a modern piece of Berislav Šipuš, none other than the actual Minister of culture in Croatia. The project is entitled „Jazz and Beyond“ and it was published by Croatian label Aquarius Records later this spring. It somehow follows the legendary „Ethnophonia“ released in 1999, which included Cubismo percussion section and presented the work of Ginastera, Cowell and Croatian contemporary composers.
The disc opens with Abdullah Ibrahim's „Mountains“, a piece that recalls South African thematic material with a touch of boogie-woogie. On his own piece called „Voodoo“, modal and chromatic in its development, Vojtek will borrow some licks from Ibrahim and Chris McGregor. Dipping his fingers into the work of a composer named Milivoj Koerbler, a house composer with Zagreb School of Animated Film (of '60s and '70s fame), with a rendition of „Spotlight“, Vojtek's stylistic helicopter slightly nods to Dave Brubeck, a composer who has written few pieces inspired by classical music and made a further quest for it. Watching all that late night television comes to mind when hearing Stanley Clarke's „Quiet Afternoon“, which evolves into Carla Bley's „Ida Lupino“. Since these takes are somehow ironed to the detail, they reveal a jazz-curious classical pianist, who obviously does not sit in that often.
And then there's Chick Corea's „Children's Song No. 4“, one that has already found its way to Real Books, although its author is burdened with a pedigree of one who left Anthony Braxton in favor of Scientology. Vojtek solves the problem quite elegantly, sitting behind an electric piano and going for some free-form that might recall his coming of age in '70s and '80s. Now, if he'd chose to swing this Telemann a little, he'd become an easy target of kitschifying the concept that obviously has its bleak spots. So, he didn't. Then there's „Take Five“ by Paul Desmond, 'recorded after hearing about Dave Brubeck's death', which finds left hand very articulated and firm, although a bit too stiff throughout the version's nine minutes. But, the right leaves the swinging finely for going out into the abstract along with employment of some minor instruments like harmonica and gongs, and then leaving the piece's emblematic charm for a rendition in abstract lyricism, an added value that's inviting for repeated listenings.
The minister's piece that comes right before an end, has a charm rather different to music of Republic of Croatia's former president. Šipuš' „Dick Tracy and the Mystery of a Love Song“ owes much to instrumental theatre and uses djembe and bass-clarinet to enter into the circular-breathing improvisation that would put some European free-improv players to shame, at least for the execution of quadruple multi-phonics. The closing piece „One Man Plays the Drum“ (signed by Vojtek) is dedicated to Miles Davis, as the title reveals Miles' predicament of what the end of music will be. On a take that fits such distinguished musician concerned with form and experimentation, the piece really makes it through, as it goes beyond that one song we happen to hear so often.
That Ratko Vojtek's music has a certain appeal has to be considered even by the most unlikely, and the strategy at hand definitely manages to fight the weaker spots down. Thus, there's an album that brings surprises precisely in the moment when one may have started to begin losing the attention. Its nice that the artist is self-analytical enough to be aware of them.
3. Quiet Afternoon
4. Ida Lupino
5. Passacaglia (With Improvisations)
6. Take Five
7. Children's Song No. 4
9. Dick Tracy And The Mystery Of A Love Song
10. One Man Plays The Drum