Blue Balkan: Then & Now

Larry Vuckovich

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Blue Balkan: Then & Now Review

by Matt Collar

Pianist Larry Vuckovich revisits his landmark 1980 recording on this combined reissue and new release. Prefiguring the much-lauded work of Dave Douglas and the Tiny Bell Trio, guitarist Brad Shepik, and even John Zorn, the Yugoslavian-born Vuckovich combines the ethnic melodies and rhythms from his native Balkans with modal jazz. Never as avant-garde as his contemporaries, Vuckovich nonetheless pushes the boundaries of both jazz and folk styles. The original tracks featured the brilliant vibe playing of Bobby Hutcherson, who unfortunately does not reprise his role on the four new pieces. Nonetheless, with the adroit violinist Eric Golub returning and the capable hands of Tommy Kesecker replacing Hutcherson on marimba, the new tracks on Blue Balkan are superb additions that set this album securely in a modern context. Taken as a whole, these are angular, cubist, post-bop compositions reminiscent of late-'60s McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane. The gypsy-style melodies, authentically believable on their own, work effortlessly with the modal underpinning of Vuckovich's writing, making for an edgy and often incendiary listen. A forgotten connection to world music, fans of Dizzy Gillespie's Latin jazz forays and even the downtown New York Knitting Factory scene would do well to check this out.

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