by Ian Mann
March 12, 2013
This is delightfully subtle music with its roots in folk forms, relaxing but never bland, and played with an extraordinary amount of dedication and skill.
(Sun Recordings BS-SR 24597-7)
Born in the former Yugoslavia but now based in London acoustic guitarist and composer Branco Stoysin has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years. Previous reviews of Stoysin’s work to be found elsewhere on this site include “Lily Of The Valley” (2006), essentially a solo recording with Stoysin augmented on some tracks by the six string bass of Leslee Booth, and the excellent 2009 trio recording “Inexhaustible” featuring Stoysin, Booth and percussionist Buster Birch.
An active guitar tutor in the London area Stoysin has also run his own Sun Recordings record label for the past fifteen years. Apart from the recordings mentioned above Stoysin’s output for the label has also included the solo guitar albums “Something Between The Sea And The Sky” (1998) and “Amber” (2000) plus the trio releases “Heart Is The Bridge” (2003) and “Quiet Stream Breaks The Rocks” (2007). There is also a live trio DVD recorded at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club in 2008 and re-released in 2011.
Released to celebrate the Sun label’s fifteenth anniversary the lavishly packaged “Alone” sees Stoysin returning to the solo format albeit often overdubbing himself on several different acoustic guitars. Stoysin dedicates the album to the Serbian born scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla (1856 -1943), a pioneer in numerous scientific fields including the generation of electricity.
Stoysin’s writing is inspired by the folk music of his native Yugoslavia (indeed “Lily Of The Valley” was comprised almost entirely of traditional tunes) and most of his albums consist of original tunes executed in a style somewhere between folk and jazz. The use of bass and percussion in the trio gives the music a jazzy feel and Stoysin has occasionally covered tunes by composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Thelonious Monk. All of Stoysin’s recordings place an emphasis on the clarity of sound and on an almost mystical sense of pastoralism and tranquility. The result is frequently beautiful music that soothes and relaxes the listener but also contains much of interest to sustain and reward repeated listening. Stoysin albums are always immaculately recorded (“Alone” features the engineering skills of Derek Nash) and the skill of the playing is understated but obvious.
“Alone” marks Stoysin’s return to the solo format for the first time in over a decade and features the guitarist on a programme of seven new original pieces plus new versions of three previously recorded items, all of them among Stoysin’s personal favourites. The album begins with the title track, a dedication to Tesla played by Stoysin on four guitars with the emphasis on Stoysin’s rich acoustic sound. The album comes with a bonus DVD (which I’m unable to comment upon as my DVD player is still on the blink) but in his notes Stoysin is at pains to explain that the images for this tune were gathered and synchronised to fit the music rather than the other way round.
Another new tune “Two Japanese Girls on the Bridge” salutes two Japanese girls who play traditional instruments for passers by on Charing Cross Bridge. It’s a typically beautiful Stoysin tune, the folk tinged melody sketched first on a single acoustic guitar but with a second guitar part subtly added during the course of the piece. Stoysin’s notes inform us that like many of his pieces the tune was composed pretty much spontaneously.
“Light of the Nights” is a slower and more deliberately atmospheric piece with Stoysin overdubbing himself on two guitars and also adding delightful tiny percussive details on bells, shakers and bell tree.
“Adagio For All Dear Souls” is a genuine solo guitar piece with no overdubs, a haunting hymn in memory of the departed. Listening to the interlocking lines it’s hard to believe that this is the sound of just one instrument and one pair of hands.
“Behind the Clouds There’s the Sun” is an alternative take on a tune that originally appeared on the trio album “Inexhaustible”. Here it is movingly played by Stoysin on two acoustic guitars, the optimism inherent in the title conveyed with a gentle virtuosity.
There’s another visit to the archive vault with a new take on “Amber”, the title track of Stoysin’s solo album from 2000. This is another solo guitar performance with Stoysin breathing fresh life into one of his most enduring pieces.
Played by Stoysin on four guitars “Aurora Tesla” is another dedication to one of the guitarist’s chief inspirations. The tune unfolds slowly in accordance with Stoysin’s intention that it should begin as a “morning sun rise” before going on to paint an increasingly complex picture of Tesla the man. Melodic and rhythmic fragments combine to good effect as the piece gradually builds in complexity before appearing to finish too soon (hardly a reflection of Tesla’s age, he lived to be 87, but perhaps a comment on his premature departure from academic life).
“Dissonant Harmony” is less forbidding than it sounds, a piece featuring two overdubbed guitars, one sounding almost mandolin like at times. By modern standards the level of dissonance is quite gentle with Stoysin’s liner notes alluding to the classical elements of the piece plus its underlying complexity.
The tune “Love in White” originally appeared on the trio album “Quiet Stream Breaks The Rocks”. Here it is re-imagined by Stoysin on two guitars, a reflection on the passion of love played with a quiet intensity.
The album closes with “Spring Twilight”, a typically pastoral Stoysin title but one that masks the fact that the tune was written in the former Yugoslavia back in the turbulent years of the early 1990’s but has remained unrecorded until now. The tune was inspired by the sunset over the Danube river at Stoysin’s home town of Novi Sad. Here he successfully captures something of the beauty of that moment, commenting on the difficulty of depicting that instant when the sun disappears below the horizon. To these ears he succeeds brilliantly.
“Alone” isn’t a jazz record per se which may discourage some readers but it’s still a record well worth hearing. All of Stoysin’s immaculate recordings are a labour of love and there is much to enjoy here from the simple beauty of the tunes to the often rich and complex underpinnings of the playing. This is delightfully subtle music with its roots in folk forms, relaxing but never bland, and played with an extraordinary amount of dedication and skill. The production work by Stoysin and Nash captures every nuance of the playing and the overdubbing is handled with skill and care throughout. “Alone” represents a worthy addition to Stoysin’s already impressive discography and is an excellent celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of Sun Recordings.
The album launch concert will take place on Saturday 20th April 2013 at The Polish Jazz Café, POSK, 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London at 8.00 pm with a performance by the Stoysin/Booth/Birch trio. More information at http://www.brancostoysin.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus