Blesok no. 52, January-February, 2007
Aquarius Records, 2006
Macedonian percussionist Zoran Madzirov has made a career of birthing the blazing virtuosity and individualism of Balkan jazz into the 21st century, streaming inimitable instrumentation and the latest incarnations of modern music into this genre's vast sea of influences. This year's offering, Bottling Jazzy, begins with (and returns to) sparse fragments that evoke Radiohead's Kid A, peppered with perhaps the sonic equivalent of drinking fine wine and Madzirov's claim to fame: 40 diatonically-liquid-tuned bottles he has titled “the Bottlephone” and plays with mallets. Enlisting the help of wünderkind computer sound designer Aleksander Spasoski, Madzirov performs electronica-inflected jazz with significant nods to canonical Western classical composition and Macedonian folk song. But the glue that holds everything together is the joyous aplomb with which he leaps into the Great Unknown, manifest in both his self-crafted feature instrument and the effervescence and surprise of his songcraft. Notes, tone colors, and rhythmic patterns enter and exit on their own terms, creating a series of compelling coincidences that give each track its unique flavor; at the same time, echoes of “head” structure and folk aesthetics render the music's ambience as a cloak of tradition.
The first two tracks stand firmly within electronica genres (lounge, drum and bass) that have come to characterize the urban metropolis in the majority of Americans' imaginations, thanks to mass media. After making himself intelligible to this target audience (a talent honed in NYC subways), Madzirov slowly challenges the listener to focus on motifs and their development, as well as the role of different instruments in giving them shape. The subsequent “Shturec” and “Tu Be Ve” move into the more experimentalist ground covered by To Rococo Rot and Björk's Medulla, as the Bottlephone moves to the fore in volume and relevance. From Track 5 on, Madzirov commences a call and response with a wide variety of personal influences, mirrored by the appearance of guitar and accordion: it is here that the disc enters the realm of the extraordinary. On “Round Above,” the bottles become a melody instrument accentuating the melancholy of this waltz with the delicacy of a fragile ego.
In stark contrast, the following track, “On the Phone,” finds Madzirov breaking out into improvisations with logic-defying speed and clarity. The CD reaches its apogee in Madzirov's reworking of a Macedonian song in traditional 7/8 meter, “Opa Iha.” On this track (no.9), bottles and samples present the melody in ghostly shards and neurotic repetitions before it erupts into completeness via live brass orchestra and vocal exclamations. This thought-provoking musical commentary on the relationship between past and present can be taken as a statement of the work's credo, where a respect for “roots” runs deep enough to honor their ability to accommodate the new realities that Madzirov pushes himself to face head-on, time and again.
© Amy Frishkey