By John Ephland | Published June 2016
Serbian keyboardist Vasil Hadzimanov’s band, with special guest David Binney on alto saxophone, is marvelous on Alive. While on tour in his home country in October 2014, Hadzimanov went into the studio with electric bassist Miroslav Tovirac, drummer Pedja Milutinovic, guitarist/percussionist Branko Trijic and percussionist/singer Bojan Ivkovic.
One element that’s immediately apparent is the musicians’ level of fluency. Each of them finds a way to sound original, eschewing a sense of purism. These Eastern Europeans sound as though they were raised on a diet of Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, with a little Bill Bruford Earthworks and electric Miles Davis thrown in for extra spice. Binney’s playing makes it clear that he’s here for a reason.
The fairly modest opener, “Nocturnal Joy,” no sooner ends than we are swept into a blizzard of hi-speed funk grooves pitting Trijic’s guitar against Milutinovic’s speed-dial drumming on “Zulu.” Things cool down a bit with “Odlazim,” the band’s rubato roundabouts feeling like a yoga stretch after a long sprint.
The album moves into delicate territory with the insistently low-key, tuneful “Dolazim,” while the eloquent “Razbolje Se Simsir List” showcases Hadzimanov’s piano skills in a ballad setting with Binney.
“Uaiya” starts slow but builds in intensity; it’s a fusion workout, especially for Binney. “Otkrice Snova” finally returns us to the amiable, funky universe where Alive first emerged, but in a more vivid setting.
Alive: Nocturnal Joy; Zulu; Odlazim; Dolazim; Tovirafro; Razbolje Se Simsir List; Uaiya; Otkrice Snova. (72:41)
Personnel: Vasil Hadzimanov, piano, keyboards; David Binney, alto saxophone; Miroslav Tovirac, bass; Pedja Milutinovic, drums; Branko Trilic, guitar, percussion; Bojan Ivkovic, percussion, vocals.