Contemporary Guitarist - Performer - Composer - Recording Artist - Educator
CD: Beyond The Lines
By George W. Harris
Here's a combo worth your attention. Ratko Zjaca plays guitar and Simone Zanchini hits the buttons on the accordion and electronics. Supplemented by Martin Gjakonovski/b and Adam Nussbaum, the mix Cajun, Zydeco, Tango and Bohemian blues in a way that grabs you by the throat. Deep south sound come out on the sinister "Celtico" while slinky blues hit you in your soul on "River Spirit" and "Days of Old". They can bop with the best as well, showing some hot grooves on "The Judge Says You are Innocent" and "The Lost Call" while taking you to The Left Bank on "bale Con La Uno". Funk is the name on "The Clockwork" which features wondrous guitar work and Zanchini hits all the right buttons on "The Easy Whistler". The only label for this one is "Oh, Yeah!".
Midwest Records, May 2014, USA
The Euro jazzbos return for their third set under this name and bring a Euro chip on their shoulders as well. They don't want to go forward just being thought of a jazz in the American sense — they want to be seen as musical adventurers that add stuff from everywhere. Mash up is the future, huh? You can hear jazz, tango, Django and more — all of it right on sounds. Loose the chip on your shoulder. Forget about marketing, focus on the music. That's what you do best. Rhetoric aside, this is a delightful wild ride from cats that want to admirably push the limits and they are at their most hypnotic when their vision of fusion is to fuse the past with the future. Not really malcontent jazz, this is a nu sort of world fusion that has some really cool things going. Well worth checking out if you appreciate softer jazz/rock that has some real edges. This could easily become one of your left field faves.
All About Jazz, January 2014, USA
By Dan Bilawski
ZZ Quartet: Beyond the Lines Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini hit artistic pay dirt when they teamed up for The Way We Talk (In + Out Records, 2010). They joined forces with Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum for that album, creating a cross-cultural blend of music that speaks to specific musical idiosyncracies and universal truths in sound. Now, a few years after that initial encounter-on-record, this outfit returns with a follow-up that's just as pleasing and unique as its debut.
On Beyond The Lines, this foursome delivers music that's alternately breezy, brainy, brash or bold. They create beautiful aural tapestries ("Bale Con La Uno" and "Days Of Old"), use simple, evolving riffs and overlapping ostinatos as a leaping off point for something greater ("The Clockwork"), and delight in delivering a zany, left-of-center hoedown ("Celtico"). Understatement also has its place in the program ("River Spirit"), as does full-steam-ahead interplay ("The Judge Says You Are Innocent") and tuneful cheeriness ("The Easy Whistler"). These men truly manage to cover a lot of ground as they move beyond the lines and wherever else they please.
Some of these pieces use textural elements as structural cornerstones while others tend to be built on and around rhythmic foundations, but all of the music speaks to the creative spirit of its makers. Zanchini seems to have the greatest range of all the men at play, serving as instigator one minute and creating sonic sedatives the next, but Zjaca is the solo voice of note. His solo spots simultaneously display deep thought and highlight an off-the-cuff creative streak that's ever-visible. Nussbaum and Gjakonovski prove to be an organic pair that's willing and able to do whatever the music demands, be it moving forward, receding into the shadows, or playing things straight.
In ZZ Quartet, differences and likenesses both prove to be assets. These four men wear their individuality and togetherness like a badge of honor on Beyond The Lines.
Jazzthetik, January 2014, Germany
By MARK CORROTO, December 2013
The answer to the question: what does one do with an accordion?, is not beat it with a club until it is silenced. At least that is not the case when the accordion is utilized in the context of a jazz quartet like this ZZ Quartet. The 'Z' stands for Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini. Their quartet is rounded out by the Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum. Beyond the Lines follows The Way We Talk (In And Out Records, 2010) and, while eschewing the traditional (or avant) aspects of the accordion, makes some innovative and what is more important, some swinging jazz.
Their music is difficult to pigeonhole. They draw from modern jazz, Italian film, and folk music as influences. The disc opens with the weighty bass line of "Voglio Una Donna" that unwraps into a complex and destabilizing sound. The band can hit hard and switch gears instantly ("Freak in Freak Out"), deliver a whistling pop song ("The Easy Whistler") with actual whistling, and negotiate the coolness of a lush blues ("River Spirit") all by meshing the ying/yang of Zjaca's guitar and Zanchini's accordion. The music is engaging and instantly agreeable.
In + Out Records
Purists may relax: The ZZ Quartet has hardly anything to do with the Texan Blues rock band ZZ Top. Instead, the band‘s forceful initials originate from the surnames of the initiators Ratko Zjaca (guitar) and Simone Zanchini (accordion). After the sensational 2010 début album The Way We Talk (In + Out Records) they have returned to the studio once again, together with Martin Gjakonovski (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums), to write another chapter in the history of cross-border jazz. But - jazz?
"By now, this term in its classic American meaning is no longer sufficient," muses Simone Zanchini. "What we do clearly has European roots, many classical influences, folklore, avant-garde, improvisation, sometimes fusion too. You‘ll only find something akin to swing in one piece at the most, but yet a distinct rhythm pervades the entire album". And Ratko Zjaca believes he discerns an element of rock and pop music in the ZZ Quartet‘s compact, self-contained, highly exciting sound, which sometimes goes against the grain.
"We function as a band first and foremost; we have got to know and appreciate each other these last four years. It may be customary in jazz to play with new people again and again, to take on the unexpected, to act out one‘s individuality. We, on the other hand, draw predominantly on our mutual trust. Not for nothing were legendary bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Weather Report able to develop their concept continuously over a long period of time".
A small hint of ZZ Top after all, then, albeit in the philosophical sense. "We never wanted to make an album that was just purely jazz," says Ratko Zjaca, explaining the motive of the ZZ Quartet which, on The Way We Talk still bears his name in classic jazz fashion. "The preferences and the musical socializations of the four of us are too different for that. None of us wants to be confined or enslaved to a particular style any more". Zjaca, the guitarist, is from Croatia but has made the Netherlands his home for more than 20 years. Zanchini, the accordion player, is from Italy, Martin Gjakonovski, the bass player, is from Macedonia, but has been living in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne, for 23 years. And Adam Nussbaum, the authority on drums, is from New York. An international task force of esthetic possibilities is searching for the truth beyond the generally accepted lines of demarcation. Beyond The Lines. Which lines? "In effect this is about every line," says Ratko. "Everything we hear goes into what we do. The passion for film music as well as the secret love of rock, the admiration of classical music, the longing for folk and, of course, the burning desire for jazz and its possibilities for improvisation."
Hence, they play no standards. Nine of the eleven tracks, which all have it in them to become new standards, were penned by Ratko Zjaca and Simone Zanchini and one each by Adam Nussbaum and his daughter Maja ("Days Of Old") and by Martin Gjakonovski ("The South Song"). A different concept, a foreign path, which nevertheless leads into familiar areas. The change is most clearly noticeable in "The Clockwork" by Zanchini. "We have developed further", the accordion wizard emphasizes. "This begins with our compositions and becomes most obvious when we play together. We move much further away from guidelines than we used to and have become more mature, more grown-up. Everything is balanced, even if Ratko and I have written most of the tracks"
ZZ are both from the same corner of Europe, but could not be much greater opposites as far as their nature is concerned. Together with the two other guys and their respective backgrounds, this adds up to an unbelievable mixture, a wonderfully tasty cake, for which the recipe and especially the chemistry are really good. For example, Adam Nussbaum, who in his long life as a drummer has already set the beat for John Abercrombie, Paul Bley, Michael Brecker, Tom Harrell, Lee Konitz, David Liebman, John Scofield, and also the Allman Brothers Band and Jaco Pastorius, calls the ZZ Quartet "one of the craziest bands I have played with in the last 30 years". Still in doubt? Just give it a go and leave your (listening) habits behind.
By DAN MCCLENAGHAN, Published: August 4, 2013
The group is called the ZZ Quartet, and no, it is not an expansion of the famed blues rock trio from Texas, ZZ Top. Beyond the Lines is the brainchild of the leaders – the Zs of the ZZ Quartet – accordion master Simone Zanchini and guitarist Ratko Zjaca. And their music isn't rock, though elements of the genre surface, in Zjaca's oft-imes snappy guitar licks, or when Zanchini addresses the "ah-look-at-all-the-lonely-people" bit of The Beatles' melody on the tranquil "River Spirit."
Anytime time an accordion sits up front the tag "folk music" comes to mind, but as the disc's title suggests, this music pushes out beyond the lines of labels, with spirited improvisations riding hard driving rhythms ("Freak in Freak Out"), modernistic stealth grooves ("The Clockwork"), a graceful and gorgeous romantic slow dance ("Bale Con La Uno"), and a playful romp ("The Judge Says You Are Innocent").
The quartet's sound draws its influences from its international cast: Guitarist Zjaca hails from Croatia; accordionist Zanchini is from Italy; drummer Adam Nussbaum brings a New York state of mind to the music; and bassist Martin Gjakonovski is from Macedonia. Given that make-up, a European tinge is evident. Ten of the set's eleven tunes are penned by either Zjaca or Zanchini – "The Lost Call" was written by Zjaca, while a swaying, lighthearted "The Easy Listener" comes from Zanchini's fertile imagination.
Beyond the Lines, by the ZZ Quartet, defies categorization on this very engaging outing.
CD: Now and Then
Guitarist (UK), May 2012
Hi Fi News (UK), April 2012
Propermusic (UK), December 2011
Brilliant guitarist Ratko Zjaca's 'Now & Then' features him in some very distinguished company including Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous, John Patitucci, Reggie Workman, Steve Gadd, Al Foster, Adam Nussbaum and others. Intended as a profile of his work, the album includes released and unreleased material by Zjaca and features him in duo, trio, quartet and quintet contexts, ultimately winning the recognition of famous colleagues such as those on this very fine CD.
Jazz Thing (Germany), December 2011
Die Kollaboration mit dem Akkordeonisten Simone Zanchini etwa oder die Sessions mit Reggie Workman und Al Foster, John Patitucci, Steve Gadd sowie Miroslav Vitous (auf einem von zwei unveröffentlichten Tracks). Als Compilation jedoch zeigen die Titel erstmals auf, wie sehr Ratko von dem Wunsch beseelt ist, den Jazz klassischer Prägung mit seinen europäischen Wurzeln zu verbinden, Stile und Menschen zusammenzubringen. Eine gute Gelegenheit für Quereinsteiger, einen wirklich interessanten Gitarristen zu entdecken.
Muziekwereld (Netherlands), December 2011
Op deze nieuwe plaat van gitarist/componist Ratko Zjaca horen we buitenaardse riffs in improvisatiebattles tussen gitaar en accordeon die tot bizarre resultaten leiden. Ook het gebruik van een fretloze elektrische gitaar is zeer bijzonder. Door het ontbreken van de frets is het geluid veel zachter van toon en kunnen de mooi gecomponeerde oriëntaalse melodieën juist geïntoneerd worden. Dit is niet alleen vanwege de vele topmuzikanten die meedoen een bijzonder album maar ook vanwege de avontuurlijke en gevarieerde composities.
Gitarre & Bass (Germany), December 2011
Der kroatische Jazz-Gitarrist mit einer Compilation, die nicht nur zehn beeindruckene Tracks aus zehn Jahren nebeneinander stellt, sondern auch mit Unterstützung einiger ganz großer Viersaiter & Drummer entstanden ist: Reggie Workman/Al Foster, John Patitucci/Steve Gadd, Martin Gjakonovski/Adam Nussbaum und Miroslav Vitous/Ben Schröder heißen hier die Rhythm-Sections. Treibender, straigh swingender Jazz mit sehr schöner Handschuhton-Gitarre.
All About Jazz, October 2011
By Dan Bilawski
Boiling a decade's worth of work down to one CD must be a frustrating yet gratifying process. Frustration likely surrounds the idea of reducing ten years of blood, sweat, composing and performing into a single package, but the recorded evidence of one's artistic growth and reach is the ultimate reward. Such is the case with the music on Now & Then: A Portrait, which serves as a survey of Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca's output from 2000 to 2011.
In selecting a pair of pieces from four different albums released within this span of time, and sweetening the deal with two previously unreleased tracks, Zjaca manages to present a multifaceted musical portrait of an artist in his prime. Three of the albums—A Day In Manhattan (Laika, 2000), Crossing The Border (Nishville, 2007) and Continental Talk (IN+OUT, 2009)—are loaded with America all-stars, with musicians like drummers Steve Gadd and Al Foster, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and bassist John Patitucci bringing their best to the sessions, while The Way We Talk (IN+OUT, 2011) showcases an ethnically diverse group of artists; but all of the music revolves around Zjaca's intriguing guitar work and compositions.
Zjaca deals in aural oddities on "Kandinisky Night," waltzes along with Foster and bassist Reggie Workman on "Out Of Body," and crosses cultural lines as he brings quirky and angular European sensibilities to boogaloo music on "The Gate," but those are only three chapters in this compelling musical biography. The connection between Zjaca and Stan Mitrovic is highlighted on two duo numbers—the electronics and effects-enhanced "Katarina" and beautifully serene "Great Ocean Road"—and continues on full band tracks like the urgent "Welcome To Our Jungle," which showcases both musicians' solo skills. Zjaca even manages to create music, with some help from accordionist Simone Zanchini, that sounds like a serene, non-Argentine answer to Al Di Meola's World Sinfonia, with bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi.
While the two previously unreleased tracks may by a dangling carrot for Zjaca fans that already own the rest of this music, the entire package is an appetizing musical meal ready to be consumed by those unfamiliar with his work.
Inakustik, Germany, September 2011
Sometimes he likes to call his music “Fellini Jazz“. He brings Mediterranean flair to the epicentre of American jazz. He explores classical music and influences from India and the Far East and combines “folklore imaginaire“ with free forms of expression. Ratko Zjaca is a bridge-builder par excellence who keeps on delving his pillars into new waters. IN+OUT Records releases a portrait of this exceptional Croatian guitarist which presents the different facets of his career, with ten pieces of music spanning ten years and featuring him in a variety of line-ups. Zjaca studied in Zagreb, then plunged into modern idioms at Rotterdam Conservatory and at the New York University School of Music. He started to attend master classes given by the likes of Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Bob Brookmeyer, Joe Pass and Jim Hall. The last two in particular left their mark on his playing which has always been orientated towards the USA. Among the first musicians to appreciate his remarkable string wizardry were bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Al Foster. Ratko teamed up with these two in New York in 2000 for an intimate and intense trio experience, captured on the album “A Day In Manhattan“. You can listen to this early experimental period in two outtakes: “Out Of Body“ starts with a sleep-walking, elegant dance on the strings whereas “Why We Are Here“ heats up with inspiring modern jazz phrases, including some short solo work by Zjaca’s partners.
Six years later the Croatian can be found playing with a quartet. Joining Zjaca and Al Foster is one of Ratko’s east coast heroes, bassist John Patitucci, and a lyrical counterpoint, saxophonist Stan Mitrovic. “A most enjoyable listening experience“ – that’s how John Abercrombie described Ratko’s album, “Crossing The Border“, and he was certainly not the only enthusiast. Two tracks from this album –“Welcome To The Jungle“ and “Great Ocean Road“ – amaze the listener in totally different ways, one with a dense, aesthetic combination of modern idioms, and the other with ballad-like, almost folksy and dreamy duo between the Zjaca and Mitrovic. In a similar line-up Zjaca presented himself on his IN+OUT début album, “Continental Talk“, with Randy Brecker – another of Zjaca’s prominent heroes – and Steve Gadd replacing Foster. The recordings, made in 2008 and represented here by “The New Life“ and “The Gate“, show an increasingly inspired Zjaca producing a melodious flow and even using a little Latin flair in the arrangements. ”This is my dream team”, Zjaca said about the quintet, which he felt created an “organic symbiosis” during the sessions.
Eventually, in 2010, Zjaca returned to Europe. On “The Way We Talk“, which came into being at the Klangstudio Leyh in Mannheim, we hear Ratko Zjaca side by side with his new studio and stage partner, Simone Zanchini, probably the most daring accordionist that Italy has produced. Completing the band is Macedonian bass player Martin Gjakonovski, and – to cast the anchor in the New World – drummer Adam Nussbaum joins. The musical language is, at the same time, more Mediterranean, thanks to Zanchini’s effective escapades – and more experimental, bearing witness to stylistic boundary-crossing. This can be heard in the nervous and somewhat eccentric “Kandinsky Night“, and also in the cantable, melancholy “A Friend For Life“. This release is full of cinematic character, full of “Fellini-esque traits indeed.
Last but not least, “Now And Then“ offers two previously unreleased tracks: In “Katarina“ you will hear a Rotterdam snapshot of 2003, in which Zjaca and Mitrovic mix minimalistic loop philosophy and vocal lines from the Balkans via multi-tracking.
And in the epic “Then And Now“ you will get an impression of the quality of Zjaca’s live playing. On this 11-minute track, he is accompanied by Miroslav Vitous (b), Bart Platteau (fl) and Ben Schröder (dr), and he combines a lyrical, impressionistic tableau with complex rhythmic patterns.
“Now And Then“ presents a thrilling overview of the sound aesthetics created by this extraordinary Croatian string wizard.
CD: The Way We Talk
Jazzpodium (German), June 2011
Gitarre und Bass (German), March 2011
Muziekwereld (Dutch), March 2011
By Nicholas F. Mondello, USA, February 2011
Jazz musicians are, in essence and practice, explorers and high-wire artists. The finest improvising players use their instruments to mine the dimensions of sound, rhythm and emotional perception, doing so without a safety net. Like its keyboard cousin the piano, the accordion as an instrument that challenges its players to explore the technical and harmonic universes out there. Unlike the piano, however, the accordion has only recently crossed cultural barriers into jazz and into more abstract playing.
The Way We Talk, a collaborative effort of Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini, is an interesting exploration of sound, textures and rhythm. With bassist Martin Gjakonovski and drummer Adam Nussbaum in the crew, the quartet serves up a fine array of original selections. There's intelligence, humor, emotion, and a very playful sense to the selections and solos.
From the exciting Morse code pulses of "Pippo," (perhaps a nod to fine accordionist Angelo DiPippo?) and on to the exquisitely smooth triple-feeling "Twilight Time Again," Zanchini, Zjaca and Gjakonovski skip, slide and slither so nicely that the music and the improvisations predominate, and the instrumentation melds into melody. With Nussbaum's magnificent rhythmic and textural support, this is music of interest, fine improvisations and joy. There's a flavor of smoother rather than straight-ahead jazz, but, the variations in theme and textures along the way maintain and develop interest.
The quirky "Kandinsky Night," a selection dedicated to Weather Report co-founder/bassist Miroslav Vitous, flips and skirts melodic and rhythmic fragments. Nussbaum's initial[ly subtle but subsequently fierce drive mirrors and channels both Weather Report 's "Birdland" and the group's more abstract work. A more thoughtful "One Mind Temple" further displays Zanchini and Gjakonov's fine musicianship.
"Frida Is Vanished" is a nostalgic Euro-ballad, Zanchini theatrically meandering across majors and minors with a timbre reminiscent of harmonica great Toots Thielemans. The pipes, cries and bellowing of "Morgagni Est" have Zanchini sounding calliope-like, before moving into a funky arabesque melody, while "La Stanza di Arturo" scoots along at greyhound pace, with accordion and guitar bopping.
"The Forest of Love" features Zjaca's beautiful acoustic guitar in a romantic display of shades. "Adam and Eva" strolls along happily, and "Friend for Life" joins accordion and guitar in a stroll across a musical memory lane. "Out of Body" perks along in a lilting jazz waltz feel.
The Way We Talk is a fine performance by talented and extremely well-versed players. The accordion sounds that Zanchini produces are a far cry from the polka-instrument rap accordionists might encounter.
All About Jazz (Italian), February 2011
di Fabio Strada
The Way We Talk - "Il nostro modo di parlare" - è l'emblematico titolo del CD d'esordio di questo quartetto che fa della molteplicità di radici, geografiche e musicali, la propria peculiarità e ricchezza. Capitanato dal chitarrista Ratko Zjaca, croato stanziato a Rotterdam, e dal fisarmonicista Simone Zanchini, il quartetto è completato alla ritmica dalla batteria del newyorkese Adam Nussbaum e dal contrabbasso di Martin Gjakonovski, macedone trasferitosi in Germania.
Le disparate provenienze geografiche dei quattro fanno da pendant all'ampiezza del loro background musicale: Ratko Zjaca, oltre alla chitarra jazz, ha fatto studi di musica classica indiana; Zanchini è diplomato in fisarmonica classica (strumento del quale è uno dei principali interpreti a livello internazionale), fa parte dell'Ensemble strumentale scaligero ed è attivo in una molteplicità di contesti, dal jazz all'improvvisazione radicale, dalla sperimentazione elettronica alla musica colta e al tango.
Ma il jazz è indiscutibilmente il linguaggio comune e l'amore che lega fra loro i quattro musicisti coi loro disparati percorsi. Al di là dello status di vera e propria icona del jazz moderno di Nussbaum, che ha suonato con gli eroi del genere, da Sonny Rollins a Stan Getz ad Art Pepper, tutti e quattro vantano un curriculum jazz di prim'ordine. Non sorprende quindi che nonostante la sua recente costituzione il quartetto abbia subito raggiunto un alto livello di affiatamento e un suono compatto e omogeneo.
Ma ciò che più colpisce nel suono di questo disco è il feeling e il calore che emana dalle sue tracce: i temi (tutti di Zjaca e Zanchini) sono elaborati, eleganti e, pur nella loro varietà, possiedono uno squisito gusto melodico. I solisti (ruolo ad appannaggio soprattutto dei due leader, ma non mancano interventi di Gjakonovski e Nussbaum) sono sempre focalizzati e ispirati; tanto Zjaca quanto Zanchini possiedono un fraseggio caldo, ricco e fluente. La ritmica procede fluida e senza inciampi con uno swing contagioso.
Le direzioni percorse nei diversi brani sono molteplici e si spingono fino ai territori della libera improvvisazione collettiva ("Morgagni Est," "Kandinsky Night"), ma il suono di gruppo decolla soprattutto nei brani più swinganti e groovy, dove il feeling diventa davvero contagioso e irresistibile.
Un altro piatto forte sono le ballad ("Frida Is Vanished," "A Friend for Life"), ispirate e cariche di feeling, in cui la fisarmonica di Zanchini mescola in una sintesi perfetta il linguaggio jazzistico con gli echi piazzolliani; fino ad arrivare al duo di "The Forest of Love," con sola chitarra acustica e fisarmonica, una vera gemma d'ispirazione, bellezza e pathos.
Le composizioni di Zjaca ("Twilight Time Again," "Out of Body," "A Friend for Life") hanno soprattutto nella ricchezza melodica e nel calore del feeling i loro maggiori punti di forza. Il suono della chitarra è caldo e classico, ispirato chiaramente alla lezione dei maestri (da Jim Hall a Wes Montgomery fino a John Scofield); il fraseggio è raffinato e maturo e gli interventi solistici non perdono mai di vista il faro della bellezza e della pertinenza con lo spirito del tema.
I brani di Zanchini, pur mantenendo sempre un nucleo di ispirazione e gusto melodico ("Frida Is Vanished"), virano di più verso l'esuberanza gioiosa ("Pippo," "Adam And Eva") o deviano verso traiettorie più oblique e spigolose ("La stanza di Arturo").
Anche come solista Zanchini ama "sporcare" la sua forte e calda vena melodica con intemperanze e repentine deviazioni e perturbazioni ("A Friend for Life"), ritagliandosi nell'intro di "Morgagni Est" uno spazio d'improvvisazione in cui dà sfogo agli imbizzarrimenti tipici del suo stile in solo. A livello timbrico, Zanchini porta con sé quanto raccolto dalle sperimentazioni elettroniche degli ultimi anni con un uso moderato di effetti applicati alla fisarmonica in parte dei brani.
La classe e la qualità di questo CD, pur non essendo una sorpresa (essendo già nota e ampiamente dimostrata la statura dei quattro musicisti), rappresenta però un solido punto di partenza per un quartetto che ha intenzione di non essere una fugace meteora ma una realtà duratura del panorama jazzistico internazionale.
All About Jazz, January 2011
By Karl Ackermann
Little more than a year ago, the great Croation guitarist, Ratko Zjaca, released the terrific Continental Talk (In + Out Records 2009) with his longtime collaborator, saxophonist, Stanislav Mitrovic, and some all-star American support. Not content to follow even a highly successful formula, Zjaca has teamed with Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini, Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum for The Way We Talk. Zjaca's new—but still global—quartet represents a change, not only in group structure, but in its break with traditional instrumentation. Individually, Zjaca and Zanchini contribute original compositions to this surprisingly adventurous outing; as co-leaders, their distinct approaches find common ground and unique harmonies across a range of jazz styles.
The accordion's appearance in American jazz dates back to Bennie Moten's Orchestra in the '40s but it has hardly been a mainstay over the years, given its inexact musical nature. More recently, Guy Klucevsek brought the accordion to avant-garde places, with John Zorn and others. Zanchini's techniques are expansive, and throughout The Way We Talk, he encompasses styles from free jazz to ballads with a few tastefully arranged electronics to enhance the effect. From the opening "Pippo," Zanchini dispels any preconceptions that the accordion is only for polka. He rapidly fires off articulate notes that give way to Zjaca's decidedly improvised lead, and then a brief solo from Nussbaum. "Twilight Time Again" slows to mid-tempo and a more melodic line. Here, the synergy between Zjaca and Zanchini gels as they play off each other with the dexterity of a long-established frontline.
"La Stanza Di Arturo" is a unique combination of mainstream swing and inventive rhythms. Nussbaum's driving beat propels the piece at breakneck speed, while Zjaca and Zanchini trade some sizzling leads. Dedicated to Miroslav Vitous, "Kandinsky Night" is dominated by a free jazz sensation, with some electronics augmenting the piece, but it is "Morgagni Est" that comes as close to the fringe as the accordion can go. Lest it become too easy to get caught up in the novel aspects of this collection, there is Zjaca's superb guitar work on pieces like "Frida Is Vanished," where his lucid and bluesy expressions substantiate his solid reputation as one of Eastern Europe's finest musicians and composers. Whether on the somewhat funky "Out Of Body," or the plaintive "A Friend For Life," Zjaca plays with great emotion and technique.
While both Gjakonovski and Nussbaum are positioned lower in the mix, they keep a nuanced control over each piece, letting the tension build on the faster numbers while never precluding the possibility that something might explode. On Zjaca's beautiful ballad, "A Forest Of Love," the co-leaders perform as a duo, with Zanchini recalling the great bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, and Zjaca's personal but open melodic monologue. Zjaca and Zanchini have created something very different in The Way We Talk. The temptation to resort to clichés, when incorporating an outlier such as the accordion is great. These two master musicians are never overly reserved or exaggerated on this fine collection.
All About Jazz, December 2010
By Dan Bilawsky
Guitarist Ratko Zjaca's previous albums have been cross-cultural affairs, with top-flight American jazz musicians joining the Croatian guitarist on his musical journeys. While these players have vastly different backgrounds, Zjaca's music has acted as a binding agent, allowing these disparate musical personalities to coalesce into a solid working unit that moves together in service of the music. The Way We Talk continues this global trend with an American drummer, Italian accordion player and Macedonian bassist joining the guitarist, but the music here is in a completely different vein from Zjaca's prior outings.
Zjaca shares top billing with accordionist Simone Zanchini, and the program is entirely made up of pieces from each of the co-leaders. The quartet's unique instrumentation—spiced up with the addition of electronic effects on certain pieces—helps tie things together, but the music is all over the stylistic map. The album opener, "Pippo," begins with some scurrying accordion lines, underscored with rhythmic punctuation from drummer Adam Nussbaum and bassist Martin Gjakonovski. After Zanchini has some fun, the musical seas part and allow for Zjaca's guitar work to come to the fore. The follow-up to this Zanchini-penned piece is a Zjaca original that works off a relaxed swing feel. This piece could qualify as an almost-waltz, but measures of two get mixed into the music. Gjakonovski's solo is a winner here, and the song moves to a loping swing feel as things wind down.
While the first two pieces illustrate a profound difference in each man's compositional strategies, they don't define either one. Zanchini's romantic side comes out on the seductive "Frida Is Vanished," while Zjaca matches that mood with "A Friend For Life." Stockhausen-esque sounds and other oddities seep into the mix on the far-reaching "Morgagni Est," beginning with aural approximations of a didgeridoo (or a mooing cow) and followed by some eerie, unsettling sounds. Out of nowhere, a hip, faux-Arabian melody appears and vanishes, making one more showing at the end of the piece.
Plenty of people might walk away after hearing this number, but they'd be missing out. Nothing else is as challenging a listen, and each of the remaining pieces are gems. Zanchini's burning, intense "La Stanza Di Arturo" features some aggressive, driving cymbal work from Nussbaum, while Gjakonovski's bass work acts a catalyst for rhythmic change. Zjaca's "Forest Of Love" is a gorgeous duo delight from the co-leaders, while "Adam and Eva" almost sounds like an organ-group at various times, featuring Zjaca's most straightforward and impressive guitar solo of the album. The closing "Out Of Body" is a swinging jazz waltz with cleanly articulated melodic thoughts. Zanchini finally lets his chops run wild, delivering some jaw-dropping runs during this tour-de-force display.
Zjaca has taken a bold step forward with The Way We Talk, collaborating with Zanchini to move beyond their individual visions and broaden the possibilities inherent in guitar-accordion collaborations.
Italian review, November 2010
Il gruppo capeggiato dal chitarrista Ratko Zjaca e dal fisarmonicista Simone Zanchini rappresenta una inusuale fusione di culture e influenze musicale diverse. Anche la provenienza geografica dei quattro componenti rispecchia questo eclettismo: Croazia (Ratko Zjaca), Italia (Simone Zanchini), Macedonia (il bassista Martin Gjakonovski), Stati Uniti (il batterista Adam Nussbaum). Negli undici brani originali (tutti portano la firma di Zjaca e Zanchini) che animano questo disco dal titolo evocativo “The Way We Talk” si intrecciano linguaggi e approcci talvolta divergenti, ma che trovano un’inaspettata fusione. Da un lato un chitarrista fortemente legata all’estetica del jazz contemporaneo (Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie), dall’altra un virtuoso fisarmonicista con le radici nel folklore e nella musica classica. «La cosa affascinante di questa produzione è che la musica segue direzioni diverse e tutti abbiamo la sensazione di scoprire sempre nuovi elementi» spiega Zjaca «Sono molto felice che questo album sia stato realizzato, perché credo che abbiamo qualcosa di speciale da dire e, nel fare questo, abbiamo un suono autentico e innovativo».
Italian review, November 2010
In+Out Records, September 2010
They talk to each other – and also to their audience. It’s a very special vocabulary, a new form of multilingual communication in which European music culture and the history of swinging America are linked. A mixture of past and present, of classical music and improvisation, of folklore and innovation. If you check out the line-up of Ratko Zjaca’s and Simone Zanchini’s quartet, you will immediately notice how borders blur. Guitarist Zjaca stems from Croatia, accordionist Zanchini is Italian, Martin Gjakonovski, the bass player, is from Macedonia (although he now lives in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne) and drummer Adam Nussbaum is from the USA. A “task force” of aesthetic options that embraces different races and continents. For Ratko Zjaca this is also a philosophy of life. It is the aim of this guitar wizard, the creator of this project, to bring together opposites and broaden horizons.
Four years ago he met Simone Zanchini and Adam Nussbaum for the first time at a jazz workshop in Slovenia. “Teachers gave concerts there and they also had jam sessions,” Zjaca recalls. “We played together and created sounds that were really interesting and exciting.” A tour followed in 2009, then the four of them went into the Klangstudio Leyh, IN+OUT Records’ preferred recording studio, and recorded eleven original compositions by Zjaca and Zanchini. “The fascinating thing about this production is that the music follows different directions and we all feel that we are discovering new elements all the time,” says Ratko Zjaca. “I’m very happy that this album came into being, because I believe we have something special to say and, in doing this, we have an authentic and fresh sound.” First and foremost, the band leaders form a diametrical unity. On the one hand there is the guitar player, grounded in contemporary jazz – Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, Mike Stern, Bob Brookmeyer and John Abercrombie all left their marks on his playing. On the other hand we have an accordion virtuoso with roots in folklore and also in classical and New Music. Both of them inspire each other in a synergetic way, mutually absorb their influences and demonstrate their European gene code. “It definitely is a jazz album”, says Simone Zanchini. “but it is certainly not classic mainstream jazz. The word ‘jazz’ embraces such a tremendous range of music that the repertoire in the year 2010 cannot be the same as it was in 1940. The points of reference remain, of course, creativity and improvisation.” There is a photograph that shows Simone Zanchini with an accordion at the age of two. He says, “The instrument was always connected with our family. I always wanted to be a musician, not only an accordionist.” He named accordion pioneer Art van Damme, who passed away earlier this year, as “my guru”, colleague Frank Marocco as “a model“ and pianist Keith Jarrett as “my inspiration“. What links Simone Zanchini and Ratko Zjaca together apart from their joint love of acoustic adventures, is their fondness for movies, in particular the cinematic masterpieces of Federico Fellini. In an interview they each described sections of their début album as “Fellini-esque”. In this sense you could say that, with their ingenious hotchpotch, the quartet created “Fellini jazz”.
CD: Continental Talk
Audiophile Audition, March 2011
By Pierre Giroux
Putting together a record date when more than one musician is involved can be full of drama. Imagine such a date, when not only are there five musicians, but a cross-cultural blend of three Americans, a Croatian (Zjaca) and a Serb (Mitrovic). Fortunately with music as the common language, the results are worth the effort.
In this set of twelve ambitious compositions that make up “Continental Talk”, guitarist Ratko Zjaca provided nine tunes, and tenor sax player Stanislav Mitrovic contributed three. All fall into the contemporary music or fusion category. The challenge, of course, is to engage the listening audience, where two of the principals Zjaca and Mitrovic are basically unknown, despite their musical training and undoubted technique. Leading off with “Breakfast in Tokyo” which has a bluesy feel, this gives Zjaca an opportunity to set the stage for the balance of the disc.
The next three compositions, “The New Life”, “Portrait in Retrograde” and “Inner Ears” continue with the opening premise, and are harmonically bright, with “Retrograde” having a subtle bossa nuance. While the Americans Patitucci and Gadd make their presence felt from the very first tune, it is not until Randy Brecker with his biting trumpet joins on “Correspondance” that the group really pushes itself to the next level. Zjaca responds to the occasion with some vigorous playing, and Mitrovic offers a short but well-intentioned solo. This sophisticated interplay among the group continues on the other cuts with Brecker, namely “The Gate” and “e Doubt”. Going back to a couple of earlier tunes in the session, particular attention should be paid to “Home Again” and “Feather”, where there is some sensitive musical communication between Zjaca and Mitrovic.
Regardless of the instrumental configuration of the group on the various pieces, the result is the same. This is a combination with a remarkable amount of musical talent, which bodes well if they chose to embark on future endeavours.
Vintage Guitar, January 2011
Intriguing and fine jazz set from guitarist Zjaca, who is joined by an all-star cast that includes John Patitucci on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, Randy Brecker on trumpet, and Stanislav Mitrovic on sax. It’s not a full-time band, but sounds like one. Great playing and perfect interplay.
By Karl Ackermann, USA, August 2010
When a group's credentials include bassist John Patitucci, drummer Steve Gadd and trumpeter Randy Brecker, it's not an unreasonable expectation to hear some quality jazz. What may be more surprising is that leader, guitarist and composer, Ratko Zjaca and his longtime collaborator, saxophonist, Stanislav Mitrovic, steal the show on Continental Talk. This revelation is almost entirely due to the relative obscurity of these Croatian musicians in the U.S. As a teenager, Zjaca was inspired by performances from both the John Coltrane and Miles Davis groups in his native country. There are a number of middle-eastern styles that have also informed Zjaca's previous work. Though he has worked with a number of principal talents in jazz, it is his 2004 duo release with Mitrovic, Shades of Spirit (Sam Sam Music), which best demonstrates both musicians' sweeping creativity.
"Breakfast in Tokyo" opens the set as a mid-tempo, post bop number that, almost imperceptibly, leads into a slower paced solo from Zjaca before Mitrovic picks up speed with own intriguing solo. Patitucci also establishes his own important role right from this opening track. It's a fine and promising start to a program of nine original Zjaca compositions and three from Mitrovic. "Portrait in Retrograde" with a breezy Jobim feel to it, is a bit of calm before the storm. "Kurasawa" sees Mitrovic breaking out with an extended improvisational solo that is truly impressive. "At the Crossroads," at slightly under three minutes, is a charming duet between Zjaca and Mitrovic, and one of the real highlights of this recording.
The tempo continues at a leisurely pace on "Home Again"—a folksy piece featuring Zjaca on acoustic guitar and Mitrovic on tenor. "Correspondance" is where the quartet switches to quintet with Brecker's first appearance. Not surprisingly, things take a funky turn, with Brecker sounding as good as ever, blowing a rapid-fire setup for some of Zjaca's most energetic playing of the set. However, it is Mitrovic's tenor that, once again, becomes the attention-grabber with a short but dynamic solo. Mitrovic picks up the soprano and dramatically slows down the tempo on the appropriately titled "Feather," a piece that, once again, highlights the great interplay between the saxophonist and Zjaca, as they weave a dreamscape melody with just enough free play to turn it into a duet that could easily have continued much longer.
Whether Continental Talk is featuring a duo, quartet or quintet, it manages to seamlessly mix some beautifully lyrical pieces such as "Anibas" with fusion-oriented works like "E Doubt" and straight-ahead numbers like "The New Life." What is most remarkable about Continental Talk, however, is the broad spectrum of skills in the hands of Zjaca and Mitrovic. Their ability to create and perform in what amounts to a cross-functional mélange of jazz styles is impressive, and the results are highly enjoyable.
By Chuck Vecoli, USA
Continental Talk is the latest release by Croatian-born guitarist Ratko Zjaca. You may not have heard of Zjaca, but you will surely have heard of the sidemen he brought together for this project. The likes of Patitucci, Gadd, and a Brecker brother thrown in for good measure, make this a who’s who of session jazzmen. Working along with saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic, Zjaca delivers an impressive collection of compositions executed freely by the top notch band. Steve Gadd and John Patitucci make an excellent rhythm section capable of any form of groove creation and maintenance. Randy Brecker on trumpet and Mitrovic on saxes, provide two voices to compliment Zjaca in putting the color into his compositions.
All twelve of the compositions on this CD are unique in the way they allow the entire ensemble to blend and create a signature sound while enabling individual voices to rise up for the listener. Ratko Zjaca is an accomplished guitarist, having worked both sides of the pond with the likes of Al Foster and others. This line-up, however, is an ideal grouping for these songs. The compositions are beautiful canvases for the artists to paint a new picture of emotional depth. This is not a CD aimed at spotlighting Zjaca’s own talent on guitar, although it certainly does that. No, this CD is a venue for some really interesting compositions to be expressed by some extremely talented musicians. The fact that the session went down without a hitch and that the musicians themselves have expressed satisfaction with what they all have created is testimony to the vision that Zjaca had. Bring these great musicians together, give them solid charts to create with and let them do their thing.
Another surprise on this CD is the remarkable saxophone work of Stan Mitrovic. He wields both tenor and soprano with power and sensitivity. One of my favorites is his opening duet with Steve Gadd on drums on the cut "Inner Ear." His compositions "Correspondance" and "Feather" add dimension to the collection, spreading out that power and sensitivity. Brecker stretches out on "Correspondance," pulling Zjaca into a place that makes this composition really swing. On "Feather," the soprano work is haunting and wistful.
With an A-list of sessions players, compositions that reek of classic jazz, and execution that is flawless in its freshness, Continental Talk is a piece of work that should begin to draw jazz fans to Ratko Zjaca’s work. He demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the art and craft of jazz, composition, arrangement and execution...if evidenced in no other way than knowing which musicians to put in a studio to make the music come alive! As a guitarist, he has so much to offer. This CD is a fair taste of that contribution that Zjaca has made and is yet to make. He continues to make jazz the international language!
www.jazzchicago.net, August 2010
Ratko Zjaca, John Patitucci, Steve Gadd, Stanislav Mitrovic, Randy Brecker - "Continental Talk"
Croatian guitarist Zjaca studed with such masters as Pat Metheny, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie and Mick Goodrick in Europe before moving to NYC. He has recorded several previous albums as a leader, including A Day in Manhattan with Reggie Workman and Al Foster, and 2007's Crossing the Border with Foster, bassist John Patitucci and saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic. For Continental Talk, Steve Gadd replaces Foster, while Patitucci and Mitrovic return. Additionally, trumpeter Randy Brecker appears on three of the final five tracks. The comfort level between the players, and of course the talent, are made even more readily apparent when Zjaca says all 12 tracks were first takes - something that is hard to fathom based on how together everything sounds, but understandable in how freshly the compositions are rendered. Zjaca's songs are generally mid-tempo and intricate ("Breakfast in Tokyo," "The New Life") and never sound forced or hurried. His clean guitar tone combined with Pattitucci's patient undulations anchor the sound, while Gadd has the freedom to create a plethora of rhythm elements. Mitrovic's saxes (tenor and soprano) take hold of the melodies and fly with them on numbers like the Brazilian-flavored "Portrait in Retrogade." I hate the term "post-bop," but the description does seem fit well here, as the quartet builds on tradition while obliterating cultural and musical boundaries to create a merger of American and European jazz (with occasional Latin touches: "Home Again," the funky "The Gate"). Zjaca's guitar work recalls the work of his mentors, but with his own personal voice. He usually relies on his electric, but shows a masterful touch on acoustic guitar on "At the Crossroads" and "Anibas" The guitarist supplies most of the music here, while Mitrovic adds in three numbers of his own, including two of the three featuring the veteran Brecker - who lights up the recording with his incendiary playing.
www.thisisbooksmusic.com, July 2010
Ratko Zjaca/John Patitucci/Steve Gadd/Stanislav Mitrovic/Randy Brecker’s “Continental Talk”
Sometimes all you need to see is the equation and immediately understand the value of its eventual sum. I do not speak of mathematics, but perhaps I am, for the math in this case is the equation of guitarist Ratko Zjaca, along with drummer Steve Gadd, bassist John Patitucci, saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic, and trumpeter Randy Brecker. Got the mouth drooling? It’s understandable, and with Zjaca as leader, they create a fantastic album called Continental Talk (In+Out) that feels like the 1970's jazz scene never stopped creating this level of intensity.
It’s fusion, it’s laid back but never smooth, it’s musicianship at its finest and you know what you’re hearing because they know this music is meant to be listened to. As the liner note indicates, “it was a very free session, musically speaking everyone played their hearts out” and it feels like freedom. Light up a candle, and “The New Life” could be the backdrop for your next intercourse session. Play “Breakfast In Tokyo”, inhale, and take in the sounds and scents of a new land. Play “Feather” and tickle yourself to remind yourself that this music and performances aren’t a dream. Whether it’s on his acoustic or electric, Zjaca plays with (p)reserved precision, and I myself liked it when he interacts with bassist Patitucci, as if they’re driving each other and everyone around them to dig deeper and come up with sounds of wisdom.
Musically and culturally, they let all borders go but still understand what it means to have a Continental Talk. Put this album and create your own means of dialog.
www.shadoplay.com, July 2010
Ratko Zjaca: Continental Talk
When a group’s credentials include bassist John Patitucci, drummer Steve Gadd and trumpeter Randy Brecker, it’s not an unreasonable expectation to hear some quality jazz. What may be more surprising is that leader, guitarist and composer, Ratko Zjaca and his longtime collaborator, saxophonist, Stanislav Mitrovic, steal the show on Continental Talk. This revelation is almost entirely due to the relative obscurity of these Croatian musicians in the U.S. As a teenager, Zjaca was inspired by performances from both the John Coltrane and Miles Davis groups in his native country. There are a number of middle-eastern styles that have also informed Zjaca’s previous work. Though he has worked with a number of principal talents in jazz, it is his 2004 duo release with Mitrovic, Shades of Spirit (Sam Sam Music), which best demonstrates both musicians’ sweeping creativity...
JazzWax, July 2010
By having the electric guitar run unison lines with the saxophone, Ratko Zjaca has produced a fascinating fusion-hard bop feel. The electric and acoustic guitarist leads a quintet on Continental Talk that includes bassist John Patitucci, drummer Steve Gadd, saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic and trumpeter Randy Brecker. The group blends together perfectly, working through intricate melody lines like the ones on Kurosawa and Correspondence or on more tender pieces like At the Crossroads and Home Again.
Ken Dryden, USA, August 2010
Guitarist Ratko Zjaca has been on the jazz scene for a while but remains a talent deserving of wider recognition. A graduate of Zagreb University who also studied jazz at Rotterdam Conservatory and New York University, Zjaca has either taken master classes or studied individually with giants like Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer, John Abercrombie, and Mick Goodrick, among others. Zjaca recorded several CDs prior to Continental Talk, while both bassist John Patitucci and tenor saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic have recorded with him previously, with the quartet rounded out by veteran drummer Steve Gadd. Zjaca's opening minor blues "Breakfast in Tokyo" proves to be immediately infectious, with robust solos by Mitrovic, the leader, and Patitucci. Zjaca moves to acoustic guitar for his intimate miniature "At the Crossroads," with Mitrovic added on tenor around its midpoint. Mitrovic also contributed several originals, including the bossa nova-flavored "E Doubt," which showcases guest trumpeter Randy Brecker. Mitrovic switches to soprano for "Inner Ears," engaging in a edgy duet with Gadd in its opening minutes, remaining on the instrument for his plaintive ballad "Feathers." This potent session should help increase the awareness of both Ratko Zjaca and Stanislav Mitrovic.
Trierischer Volksfreund, Germany, July 2009
Jazz Podium, Germany, July 2009
AD HOC News, Germany, June 2009
Ratko Zjaca - Continental Talk
Schon immer zieht sich grenzüberschreitendes, völkerverbindendes Musizieren wie ein roter Faden durch die künstlerischen Aktivitäten des aus Kroatien stammenden Wundergitarristen Ratko Zjaca. Allein schon seine wichtigsten Karrierestationen Zagreb, Rotterdam und New York belegen geografisch diese globale Ausrichtung. Folglich ist der Inhalt wie auch die Bandbesetzung seines aktuellen Albums "Continental Talk" geprägt von dieser weltverbindenden, künstlerischen Kommunikationsform.
Als Vertreter des amerikanischen Kontinents sowie des klassischen Jazz hat Ratko Zjaca mit dem Trompeter Randy Brecker, dem Schlagzeuger Steve Gadd und dem Bassisten John Patitucci drei Hochkaräter dieses Genres eingeladen. Komplettiert wird die Quintettbesetzung durch seinen europäischen Freund und Saxofonisten Stanislav Mitrovic.
Auch die Musik - alle zwölf Titel sind von Ratko Zjaca eigens für das Album geschriebene Kompositionen - drücken die oben beschriebenen Eigenschaften aus: Weltoffenheit, Toleranz, Integration, Verbindung.
Stilistisch bewegt sich die Musik in den Bereichen des Bebop, Cool-Jazz und Modern-Swing. Aus homogen interpretierten Themen entwickeln sich individuelle solistische Improvisationen, die spannungsvoll und feinfühlig von den Mitmusikern unterstützt werden, sich formal stets in den vorgegebenen Rahmen bewegen, um dann wieder im gemeinsamen Finale den Kreis zu schließen. Ratko Zjaca, der auch als Produzent von "Continental Talk" verantwortlich zeichnet, definiert das selbstbewusst und mit berechtigtem Stolz als einen "Austausch auf höchster Ebene".
In der Tat musiziert das eigens für diese Aufnahmen zusammengesetzte Quintett erstaunlich ausgewogen und eingespielt, und vermittelt akustisch den Eindruck einer bereits langjährigen gemeinsamen Aktivität. Vielleicht ja kreuzen sich die Wege dieser hochkarätigen Musiker wieder einmal zu einer nochmaligen, so harmonischen und Brücken bauenden Session.
All About Jazz
By John Barron - When guitarist Ratko Zjaca plans a recording session, he thinks big in terms of sidemen. The guitarist's 2006 release Crossing the Border featured bassist John Patitucci and drummer Al Foster, along with saxophonist and co-producer Stanislav Mitrovic. For Continental Talk, Patitucci and Mitrovic return and Foster is replaced by legendary drummer Steve Gadd. Trumpeter Randy Brecker is featured on three tunes.
The disc's twelve tracks - all original material written by Zjaca and Mitrovic - range from in-the-pocket funk to more open-ended modal jams. Zjaca leads the way throughout with his clean-toned hollow body Gibson guitar. The opening minor blues "Breakfast in Tokyo" and the mellow 6/8 bounce of "Portrait in Retrograde" demonstrate the guitarist's use of lush voicings and swinging single note lines. Tunes such as "At the Crossroads," "Home Again" and "Anibas" portray a light and lyrical landscape with Zjaca featured on acoustic guitar.
Mitrovic soars gracefully from track to track on both tenor and soprano saxophone. Indeed, the saxophonist turns in some of the more inspiring solos on the recording, including a Joe Henderson-inspired romp through his own composition "Correspondence" and a memorable duet with Gadd at the beginning of "Inner Ears."
As would be expected, Gadd and Patitucci provide rock-solid support with sensitivity to the unfolding of each groove. Brecker blows everybody away with brazen force, especially on the rocked-up "E Doubt."
Image Hifi, Germany
Surpassing boundaries, building bridges, bringing people together. It is clear from the biography and discography of the brilliant Croatian guitarist, Ratko Zjaca, that he is very much driven by these concepts. Earlier CDs are called Crossing The Border and A day in Manhattan and, meanwhile, flights between Amsterdam and New York have become a comfortable routine and English the predominant language. Ratko Zjaca stands as a symbol of the ongoing evolution of American classic jazz as it increasingly becomes a country-uniting form of communication.
No wonder, then, that Ratko has named his debut album for In+Out Records Continental Talk. The dialogue between the new and old world is functioning much better. With him as moderator, far fewer conflicts arise than is the case on political platforms. A bilateral exchange without pre-conditions and prejudices, in which the string sorcerer is on the same level as accomplished artists such as trumpet player, Randy Brecker, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Steve Gadd creates a new æsthetic of improvisation. "Two years ago, when I recorded Crossing The Border with John, and shortly afterwards started to play live with Randy and Steve, I knew instantly that I wanted to do my next recording with them," said Ratko. The decision to realise this project came about when he was on a plane with his friend and saxophone player, Stanislav Mitrovic. "It was a case of small talk above the clouds, between America and Europe. Which is the reason the CD is called Continental Talk."
Quite early in Ratko Zjaca's career, there were vivid indications of his extreme global yearning. After completing his studies at the University of Zagreb, the highly talented guitarist attended the conservatory of Rotterdam, where he plunged himself head on into the world of modern music. He attended master classes as well as individual lessons given by Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, Mike Stern, Bob Brookmeyer and John Abercrombie, at the same time dedicating himself to the study of composition. After Rotterdam he attended the New York University School of Music. Soon Ratko had gained the status of being something of a secret weapon on strings and he won the recognition of famous colleagues, not only in the USA but also in Europe. He worked with such great artists as Benny Bailey, Gary Peacock, Reggie Workman, Al Foster,Reggie Workman, Miroslav Vitous,Steve Gadd, Ron Carter,Randy Brecker, Jimmy Cobb, Alvin Queen and Adam Nussbaum.
For his dream ensemble, the heroes of his youth, Zjaca wanted to write music that was perfectly fitting. He says: "This was extremely simple, considering the line-up. An almost natural process, an organic symbiosis". This symbiosis continued during the session. Zjaca, Brecker, Patitucci, Mitrovic and Gadd merely had to look at each other, giving a short nod, and the creative energy poured forth like a lava stream. Only one take was required for each one of the twelve titles. Every band member was receptive to the impulses of the others and was immensely communicative. "I never wanted an album for my ego," said Ratko Zjaca. "My intentions were, first and foremost, to achieve an exchange at the highest level. And this actually worked! I cannot possibly describe how much we enjoyed this moment. But it can be heard, it sounds so obvious and pure. I have never felt better during a recording session." And he was never better than on Continental Talk.
Muziekwereld, The Netherlands
The compositions are characterized by fantasy-rich melodies which move freely about the tight accompaniment with a lot of humour and playfulness. The musicians leave each other all the space they need. The CD sounds natural and grand with great dynamics.
The music on this record shows that Ratko is a matured composer. What is great on Continental Talk is the unpretentious group playing, you can hear that the musicians in the group really like to play together. What results is spontaneity and honest playing. Great record.
CD: Crossing the Border
JazzImprov, April 2007, New York City
CROSSING THE BORDER - Nishville Records
CD 0023. www.ratkozjaca.com. Then And Now; Welcome To Our Jungle; The Place To Be; Soul House (It's For You); The 5th Room; Great Ocean Road (For Dick De Clerck); Sweet In Sorrow; Hyperventilation; For No Reason (For My Ana); Another Day; Bass; Aloysius.
PERSONNEL: Ratko Zjaca, electric guitar/acoustic guitar; Stanislav Mitrovic, tenor saxophone; John Patitucci, bass; Al Foster, drums.
By Dan Bilawsky
The four musicians who receive equal billing on the cover of Crossing The Border are truly tuned in to one another. While you might be lead, by the cover billing, toward believing that this is a collective, and the four members do gel incredibly well together, this project is largely the creation of Ratko Zjaca with Stanislav Mitrovic. Zjaca, A Croatian born guitarist who has spent time studying at Zagreb University in his home country, the Rotterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands and the NYU School of Music in New York, brings a great degree of warmth and creativity to his music. Zjaca clearly leads, plays and composes with the entire sound of the ensemble in mind. He wrote seven of the twelve original compositions on the album. "Then and Now," which has a cool, slick and seductive sound, is our first opportunity to marvel at the connection between Zjaca's guitar work and Mitrovic's silky saxophone sound. Al Foster stays away from grooves with well-worn clichés that many drummers would have inserted instead choosing to vary things and demonstrate his subtle musical motions. John Patitucci does a great job bridging the gap between the dual roles as rhythm section member and melodic improviser. The rhythmic propulsion, provided by Patitucci and Foster, is much more defined during "Welcome To Our Jungle." The angular improvisations from Mitrovic, with Zjaca lurking in the background, give the piece a menacing sound. Foster's unaccompanied drum solo takes the piece in a slightly different direction and the return of the rest of the band pulls the listener back to the core of the piece. �The Place To Be,� a lovely jazz waltz with some interesting harmonic choices, gives us a chance to hear Zjaca and Mitrovic playing in a more conventional vein. "Soul House (It's For You)," sounds like it was strongly influenced by Brazilian music. The harmonic progression, the lightly floating melody, stated beautifully by Mitrovic, and the understated groove from Patitucci and Foster help to give the music its gentle South American sound. Zjaca, who leans toward a more classically influenced performance style during his solo, creates the perfect contrast to Mitrovic�s sound.
"The 5th Room" is a fun Zjaca original in five that demonstrates his ability to make odd metered compositions feel natural. "Great Ocean Road (For Dick De Clerck)" begins with a guitar introduction that will melt your soul. The song remains in the same emotional arena when Mitrovic enters, but the intimacy is lost. While the program, to this point, has been all Zjaca tunes, a solid block of Mitrovic originals changes things up a bit. "Sweet In Sorrow" mixes the soul of "Soul House (It's For You)" with a more modern European slant and features a great bass solo from Patitucci. "Hyperventilation," built on syncopated rhythmic phrases and slight melodic shifts, has a Monk-ish quality and is instantly appealing. "For No Reason (For My Ana)," the final Mitrovic composition on the album, has a reflective quality, which is noir-ish in a way. The song benefits greatly from Patitucci who contributes a fine solo and gives the piece a rhythmic foundation which holds things together. "Another Day" is a non-traditional twelve bar blues that gives us an opportunity to hear the guitarist really let loose. Mitrovic, Patitucci and Foster trade twelve bar solos and listening to each person deconstruct the rhythmic material of the song is delightful! "Aloysius," the lone Foster composition on the program, follows a wonderful and all too-brief bass solo, called "Bass," from Patitucci. The Foster piece, which closes the album, fuses swing and samba and Mitrovic gives his most enthusiastic performance on the album. It is great to hear his tone take on a bit more heft, grit and rasp as he wails through his solo. This song provides a strong ending to a great program of original tunes from these four musicians.
Jazz Review, April 2007, New York City
Record Label: Nishville Records
By John Barron
Incredible playing, well crafted tunes, and top-notch production make for an outstanding release by guitarist Ratko Zjaca and tenor saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic. On Crossing the Border, the European duo, joined by two giants of modern jazz, drummer Al Foster and bassist John Patitucci, provide a soulful listening experience while challenging their own musical identities.
Zjaca, a guitarist of diverse influence, is hard to categorize. His tone is pure and his lines are highly lyrical. His solos contain traces of legends ranging from Kenny Burrell to Pat Metheny. All nods to the past, however, are merely incidental, and perhaps necessary, as Zjaca takes his place in the lineage of jazz guitar. His compositions are harmonically rich, clever, and stylistically diverse. "Welcome to Our Jungle" has a modal texture and melodic structure resembling Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," "The Place to Be" is a buoyant waltz, and "Soul House" is a meditative bossa nova.
Co-leader and contributing composer Mitrovic has a dominating, yet sensitive tone. His sound contains the brawn of old-time shouters like Gene Ammons and the elusiveness of Wayne Shorter.
Patitucci is in characteristically brilliant form. His feel, choice of notes, and intonation is astonishing. The bassist takes breathtaking solo leaps on "Another Day," "For No Reason," and the short, unaccompanied "Bass."
Crossing the Border is a solid testament to the healthy state of jazz. Zjaca and Mitrovic are both confident artists who have a firm grasp of the genre's history and are well prepared to help shape the future.
Tracks: Then and Now, Welcome to Our Jungle, The Place to Be, Soul House, The 5th Room, Great Ocean Road, Sweet in Sorrow, Hyperventilation, For No Reason, Another Day, Bass, Aloysius
CD: Shades of Spirit
L.C. Tokyo News
This is absolutely a fantastic CD - music without borders. Fantastic communication between two musicians.
This is one of the most exciting and creative CDs that I've heard in the last couple of years. It's a real musical trip from east to west, from north to south.
This music is very organic, compact, dynamic and goes into unexpected directions. A real musical trip. After listening to this great CD many times, it gives me a special, spiritual dimension.
We have eagerly awaited this album for quite some time and after having played it constantly for a week it is still avoiding categarisation. You could say it was new music, certainly you would not of heard this combination of sounds ten years ago.
Shades of Spirit ranges from almost shamanic type rhythms, through rootsy ethnic trances, past complex intertwined melodies, all tinged with jazz echoes. Hmm.. perhaps we need to go deeper. Ratko Zjaca & Stanislav Mitrovic provide all the music on the album and the title "Shades of Spirit" is no accident, if you play the blues guitar with your Soul, you play the fretless guitar with your Spirit and this really does describe this album. Put it on the deck, turn on, volume up, and your speakers start to belch sunshine.
The CD kicks off with a seven minute track La Caldera de Taburiente. While the early tracks establish a superb ethnic outdoor jazzy feel the stunning fifth track, "Tuto E Come Prima" has some of the most sensitive fretless work I've heard to date, with a tight backing which feels like its about to explode but just keeps simmering away.
Track seven see's Ratko's jazz influences breaking through (believe me he is a stunning jazz guitarist). Stanislav provides a very interesting synth harmonica part to this tea time jazz excursion. Just when you thought all was safe along comes "Murphy's Tango" a mad mix of madrigal beat / jig like riffs / french accordion, you have to hear it!
The whole thing winds up with "Count Up" which is the sort of thing Weather Report might have done if Zawinul had ever got hold of a fretless guitar.
This is a very pleasant album, every song is well crafted and structured, the playing is immaculate, the combination of Ratko and Stanislav a perfect duet. Go buy some sunshine!
CD: A Day in Manhattan
OWL am Sonntag
"A Day in Manhattan" is the superb result of Ratko Zjaca's recording session with John Coltrane's bass player Reggie Workman and Miles Davis' drummer Al Foster. This CD is just great!
In his playing together with Reggie Workman and Al Foster, Ratko Zjaca sounds like a great guitar player. This CD should absolutely not be missing in your CD-rack!
Perfectionism and emotion are often difficult to bring together, but Ratko proves with his CD that the two can be perfectly combined. He plays technically great, but the basis remains his musical talent which can be heard in his great in his great melody and harmony. A beautiful record.
This is a great CD, congratulations Ratko! Beautiful compositions, tender, sensible, and technically great guitar playing, with so much harmonic and rhytmic texture.
The combination of musical talent and a great passion, looking for perfection, is very appealing. This CD belongs to the absolute top.
As a guitar player he has a beautiful tone, technique, musical talent and a relaxed approach. But what makes this CD even more interesting is that he is also a great composer and arranger.
"Ratko Zjaca plays great and sounds like a great, new guitar star ...."
"A special note for guitarist Ratko Zjaca, who impresses with his tasteful solos and swinging accompaniment...."
"Guitarist Zjaca furnished the lilting "What's Waiting For Me Here" and is heard on three tracks on this great CD...."
Jazz Journal (Canada)
"....Nice unison sound with saxophone and guitar...."
"Ratko plays in the style of the great, mainstream jazz guitarists with great communication with the New York pianist Frank Stagnitta...."
New Page Magazine
"Ratko demonstrated an excellent technique in playing jazz guitar, and a tasteful concept of his solo playing...."
Vernon Reid, NYC
"Ratko presents a dynamic collection of jazz and attains something very rare indeed a balance between body and soul"