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Zvonimir Tot

Zvonimir Tot – Guitar
Kelly Sill – Bass

Guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ron Carter wrote the proverbial book on bass and guitar duets with such classics as Alone Together (Milestone 1972) and Telephone (Concord 1985). Last year, Chicago guitarist Zvonimir Tot and bassist Kelly Sill got together at the legendary Jazz Showcase and recorded another “chapter” with their intimate and engaging Standards–Live at the Jazz Showcase.

Released on Tot’s Groove Arts label, the double CD finds the two men expanding on 13 well-known compositions ranging from bossa nova to bop to selections from the Great American Song book. Tot and Sill are not mere mimics of their more famous counterparts (Hall and Carter), but have their own unique sound and singular style of deconstructing these oft-played tunes.

Tot, for instance, has a warmer, more emotive tone than Hall, but the same fluidity. His haunting reading of guitarist Luis Bonfá’s masterpiece “Black Orpheus” shimmers with lyricism as his strings sparkle in the expectant silent pauses. Sill’s deep, reverberating lines underscore the simmering passion within this refreshing interpretation while their reserved exchanges brim with soul and poetry.

Sill has the same understated elegance as Carter, but a much “earthier” folk-inspired approach to his instrument. The popular waltz “Beautiful Love,” by Wayne King, Victor Young and Egbert Van Alstyne, opens with flamenco hints and transforms into an introspective and free-flowing piece. Sill’s eloquent, conversational solo contrasts with and complements Tot’s ardent flood of indigo hued notes. In addition to creating an intriguing rhythmic framework around the melody, Sill also embellishes it in a relaxed, deceptively easy manner.

The undisputed highlight of this superb album is trumpeter Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” Tot and Sill endow it with an otherworldly sophistication; Sill lays down a lithe and bluesy groove with quiet persistence, while Tot’s blistering phrases burn through with deference and inventive angularity. Both men’s solos are breathtakingly complex and virtuosic yet remain thrillingly accessible in their intelligent spontaneity.

True, guitar and bass records make one think of Carter and Hall, but maybe after this delightful and charming release they should also bring to mind Tot and Sill.

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