The eagerly anticipated Guitarra Magazine Concert Series started with a bang on October 25th. At the LIPA gallery, 160 East Illinois (at Michigan Avenue), in the heart of downtown Chicago, Goran Ivanovic's sublime sounds delighted one hundred listeners for two electrifying sets.
First, a disclaimer: I have recently been making music with Goran and even participated in this very concert. Make no mistake; I have a clear and pervasive bias. I am very excited about our newly formed musical partnership.
Ivanovic's past albums include "Goran Ivanovic Solo" (Willow Records) and "Macedonian Blues, Laments and Dances" with Fareed Haque (Proteus Entertainment). He played music from both albums and from his forthcoming release, "Seven Boats" (Proteus), the second album featuring the dynamic duo of master Haque and young lion Ivanovic.
The gallery is stunning. "Lipa" is the Slavic word for "linden tree", the traditional gathering place for important events and celebrations, a place for harmony and togetherness. LIPA, which stands for Links for International Promotion of the Arts, was founded in 1997 in Washington, D.C. Members of the "Artists for Peace" program, many hailing from war-torn countries in central and eastern Europe, established LIPA for the public presentation of socially aware art.
The LIPA space has six rooms. The first two, off the foyer, display installations by Dan Perjovschi, Teodor Graur, Lia Perjovschi, and Ioan Godeanu. The way towards the performance area is lined with fine tapestry. The stage was set with an installation surrounding Ivanovic. A third room flanked the audience, and a large, private studio was in the back. Waiting for the concert to begin, the delighted audience couldn't help but admire the surroundings.
Ivanovic, with his sharp suit and complementary pony tail, entered the stage informally yet in a business-like manner. The first piece, analogously the opening piece from "Macedonian Blues", was "Yano Mori". Written by Yugoslavian Dusan Bogdanovich, this beautiful piece, a lament, set the tone with a mood of serenity.
The second song was Ivanovic's own "Jazz Sonatina," which will be released on the imminent "Seven Boats" album. A trademark of Ivanovic's style is a rich harmonic palette, and this piece is a prime example.
The highlight of the first set came with "Three Waltzes," a suite written by Ivanovic. Again displaying an array of harmonic color, these pieces seem to drift from invention to invention, with a rich, impressionistic flavor.
Leo Brouwer's "Berceuse" followed the suite. Recently Ivanovic has been exploring Spanish music, be it Flamenco, Cuban, or the music of Argentina's Astor Piazolla.
Another, as yet untitled, Ivanovic composition was a stunning interlude between the longer pieces. This piece is also featured on the upcoming Proteus release.
Dusan Bogdanovic's six Balkan miniatures, dedicated to the six provinces of war-torn Yugoslavia, closed the first set. Bogdanovic's music is challenging (I have seen the scores!), but Goran makes it sound natural and folky.
For the second set, I got to come on and play. What a delight! Percussionist Kalyan Pathak introduced the two of us. Goran came to one of my gigs, and a few months later, we hung, and I learned some of his music. Then I played it two days later at LIPA! I like to think that my specialty as a jazz musician is my ability to play creatively in odd time signatures. I have a passion for African music and its diaspora, and rhythm is the most important part of music for me. Goran's music has the addition of beautiful melodies, traditional overtones, and a lucid harmonic system.
The two songs we played together were "Macedonian Girl" and "Jovano Jovanke". I played both on my soprano saxophone. "Macedonian Girl" is a well-known Serbian folk song, a "standard" if you will. It has been interesting to work out songs like these, especially trying to fuse the disparate musical cultures that hopefully were fused on this Saturday night. I am used to playing 4/4 rhythms with drums and predictable harmony, having an aesthetic that places utmost importance on improvisation with respect to an honored tradition. I have never heard Serbian music. Goran does not consider himself a prolific improviser. He comes from a folk and classical background, and he knows little about jazz. Yet, we love working together. We play the melody, work out an arrangement for improvisation, and build the song to the conclusion. For all our differences, I think we have found a meeting place.
"Jovano Jovanke" is based on a folk song. In our interpretation, it receives flamenco overtones. The harmony, based on a harmonic minor scale, treats it modally. This treatment, as far as I know, is unique to Eastern Europe. Flamenco is interesting for me because I have so much experience playing Cuban music. Cuban music has flamenco flavors but, for me, is based on the drums. Investigating this music with Goran is exciting.
Goran closed the set with a solo piece, "Kalajdzisko Oro". This song exposes the Gypsy influence on Goran. "Kalajdzisko Oro" is performed at a furious tempo, and the riffs seem to fly from Ivanovic's fingers.
This first concert at LIPA was a giant success. I look forward to attending many more concerts in this wonderful space. Watch out for the Balkan Jam Band, the latest incarnation of the Ivanovic/Rosenberg duo. Since the concert, we have added the tabla of Kalyan Pathak and the contrabass of Matt Ulery.