By Hrayr Attarian - Chicago Jazz Magazine
Zvonimir Tot Sarabande Blue
Zvonimir Tot - guitar
Carmen Kassinger - violin
Lisa Fako - violin
Cheryl Wilson - viola
Paula Kosower - cello
Rob Kassinger - bass
Chicago based guitarist Zvonimir Tot has cultivated a unique style that mixes his Balkan heritage with his western classical training and his jazz sensibilities. As a result his captivating compositions brim with inventive ideas and his performances crackle with spontaneity. His sixth release, Sarabande Blue, is in collaboration with a string quintet and consists of ten varied yet thematically cohesive originals.
The melancholic title track opens with violins stating the undulating pastoral melody with reserved passion and grace. Tot’s guitar punctuates the music with carefully placed notes for a dramatic effect. Bassist Rob Kassinger contributes con arco lines with elegant eloquence ushering in Tot’s own soliloquy which delights with its lyricism and intrigues with its explorative sense. Eastern European motifs pepper the entire tune enhancing its poetry.
In contrast the baroque “Fugue for N.P.” is a serene duet between Tot and cellist Paula Kosower. The somber and crisp lines overlay for an intricately woven and crystalline piece that shimmers with dark hues and soothes the soul. The synergy between the two musicians is deceptively facile and thrills with its understated dynamism.
Elsewhere on the bluesy “Groove Me Wah” Kassinger, the quartet and Tot build a vibrant, three way, conversation that simmers with excitement and funky undertones. Tot takes center stage with an agile and virtuosic improvisation that meanders within the group’s collective refrains. Kosower and Kassinger engage in a charming and mellifluous dialogue, the former using her bow while the latter playing pizzicato notes. The other band members also contribute brief solos before the ensemble returns to the exuberant head.
With this brilliant and enthralling album Tot has crafted a genre defying work that is both intimate and cinematic. His versatile “Jazz Stringtet” is the perfect vehicle for his artistic vision. The delightful and mesmerizing Sarabande Blue,ultimately, is a paean to the universality of the musical experience.