by Ian Mann
January 12, 2015
There's plenty here that's likely to appeal to jazz and rock fans alike and one would imagine that Eyot are also a very exciting live act., whether in a jazz or a rock environment.
(Ninety & Nine Records)
Eyot is the band name of the quartet from the city of Nis in Serbia led by the pianist Dejan Ilijic. The band was formed in 2008 by Ilijic, bassist Marko Stojiljkovic and guitarist Sladjan Milenovic with drummer Milos Vojvodic joining the group a little later.
“Similarity”, released in 2014 on the New York based Ninety & Nine record label is the group’s third album and follows “Horizon” (2010) and “Drifters” (2013). It was actually recorded in England at the Bristol studio of Get The Blessing and former Portishead bassist Jim Barr, who also acts as producer, and the closing track, aptly titled “The Blessing” features guest appearances from GTB’s Pete Judge (trumpet) and Jake McMurchie (saxophone).
The Get The Blessing connection came about when the two bands met at the Nisville Festival, one of the biggest jazz festivals in Eastern Europe which is held in Eyot’s home city of Nis. It was the similarities between the two bands that helped to inspire the album title, a shared attitude of irreverence and a willingness to embrace influences from outside the jazz tradition. Eyot mention not only the inspiration of rock acts such as Pink Floyd, Nirvana and Radiohead but also the combined influences of Eastern European classical composers and traditional Balkan music.
Ilijic describes his group’s music thus;
“The main powers of our music are the solid and steady rhythm section, very often playing odd time grooves, the legacy of Balkan music; the ambient and unusual solution of the guitar lines and lyrical melodies of the piano plus the energy of the live performances”.
Eyot’s music makes frequent use of rock rhythms and dynamics and their music is likely to appeal to fans of British “punk jazz” acts such as Get The Blessing, Neil Cowley, GoGo Penguin, Portico Quartet, Polar Bear, Led Bib etc. The much missed E.S.T are surely another touchstone for the band as the influence of the pioneering Swedish piano trio continues to resonate across Europe.
The eight compositions on “Similarity” are credited to Dejan Ilijic & Eyot, suggesting that the initial idea for each tune came from the pianist but with the pieces subsequently being developed by the whole band. Opener “How Shall The Dust Storm Start?” commences with a solid, meaty bass and drum groove which persists throughout the piece. On piano Ilijic provides melodic embellishment as well as adding to the momentum with rapid fire repeated motifs. Milenovic’s shadowy guitar adds depth and texture, particularly during a slightly more reflective episode mid tune. The way the band expand and develop their ideas is very reminiscent of E.S.T as is the way they ratchet up the tension and make effective use of dynamics. Milenovic turns to the power chord as the music builds to a climax in a piece that owes much to the rhythms and dynamics of rock. Having come to jazz from this direction this is music that I can relate to and enjoy although jazz purists may be less than convinced. “Similarity” received a distinctly lukewarm review from Nick Hasted in the November 2014 edition of Jazzwise magazine but online commentators, most notably Bruce Lindsay of the website All About Jazz, have been far more encouraging.
“Druids” is slightly more reflective and features the viola playing of guest Dejana Sekulic. The strings lend a lushness to a piece that is centred round a liquid electric bass groove and the same kind of gradual melodic, thematic and dynamic development. The Esbjorn Svensson like presence of Ilijic is again at the heart of the music and Milenovic again provides a rich tapestry of varying guitar sounds. The piece ends with the solo viola of Sekulic (possibly multi-tracked), the sound illustrative of the influence of both folk and contemporary classical music.
It’s a supple bass and drum groove plus eerily textured guitar that kicks off the lengthy title track,
Ilijic eventually picking out a sparse but lyrical melody which he and the group develop in thoughtful, unhurried fashion with Stojiljkovic’s bass remaining at the heart of the music. Milenovic’s treated, other worldly guitar sometimes fulfils the role taken by Dan Berglund’s arco bass in E.S.T. Instruments take turn to assume the lead but Ilijic is the main soloist, using his features to subtly steer the group in other directions as they once again ramp up the tension.
“Pools of Purple Light” begins with solo piano which shapes the direction that the piece will ultimately follow further to the introduction of bass, drums and guitar. There’s the now familiar thematic and dynamic development plus some sparking soloing from group leader Ilijic. After again seemingly bringing things to a now familiar climax there’s a sudden change of pace that paves the way for a more atmospheric and lyrical coda, a welcome variation on the group’s working methods.
“New Passover” is built around a tight, insistent, hip hop flavoured drum groove and Ilijic’s punchy, urgent piano motifs. Stojiljkovic’s bass is given room to roam and Milenovic’s ambient guitar washes are used to dramatic effect.
The influence of Kurt Cobain & Co is expressed via “Nirvana” a piece that adheres to the grunge loud/soft template with Milenovic and Vojvodic enjoying the opportunity to rock out on the tune’s more explosive moments. Ilijic provides a balancing lyricism on one of the album’s most readily accessible tracks.
“Walking on Thin Ice with the Iron Shoes” is the album’s most atmospheric track and the closest the group get to a true ballad. It’s sparse, lyrical and atmospheric with Vojvodic’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers a good demonstration of a hitherto unheard versatility. Indeed it’s a beautifully controlled performance that also finds Ilijic and Milenovic at their most lyrical.
The buoyant closing track “The Blessing” adds GTB’s Pete Judge and Jake McMurchie to the mix, the Brit duo blending well with their Serbian colleagues. McMurchie takes the first solo on tenor shadowed by Milenovic’s scratchy guitar. Ilijic follows on piano, dancing above an implacable bass and drum groove. Collectively the expanded group makes an impressively full sound as the music soars towards a rousing climax before gradually falling away to end with the sound of Milenovic’s guitar FX.
The album press release describes “Similarity” as being ” forged in Serbia, crafted in Bristol” and there’s a youthful energy and vibrancy about the group’s music that I find highly appealing. Their catchy hooks and rock grooves are just fine by me but I can understand why jazz purists might get a tad sniffy about this band, the rhythms are almost uniformly rock. Nevertheless there’s still plenty that’s likely to appeal to jazz and rock fans alike and one would imagine that Eyot are a very exciting live act, capable of delivering their music convincingly in either a jazz or a rock environment.
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