by Ian Mann
March 28, 2013
The band make imaginative use of their instrumental template with an admirably colourful and varied set of compositions played with youthful enthusiasm and a high level of technical skill.
“Garden Of Adventure”
Artbeaters are a young quartet from Slovenia formed by violinist Peter Ugrin in January 2011 when he returned to his native land following studies in New York. He is joined by Ales Ogrin (keyboards), Jan Gregorka (electric bass) and Anze Zurbi (drums). The group have performed extensively in Slovenia and Croatia, appeared on national TV in their homeland, and in 2012 won first prize at the International Jazz Competition Europafest in Bucharest, Romania.
Their music is heavily influenced by 70’s and 80’s jazz rock fusion, the spirit of Jean Luc Ponty looms over the proceedings, with Ugrin modifying his violin with the use of numerous electronic effects whilst Ogrin makes extensive use of synthesisers. However there are other, more modern fusions within the music too with the album featuring guest contributions from world music musician Behrang Azhdari on saz and vocals and from rapper Illspokinn (Corey Lima). Despite the retro trappings of electric violin, analogue synths and Jaco style electric bass the quartet play with an infectious degree of youthful enthusiasm and a high level of technical skill. Although the instrumentation remains loosely in the “fusion” bag the writing, shared between Ugrin and Gregorka, actually covers an admirably wide dynamic and stylistic range.
The album kicks off with Ugrin’s title track which features Azhdari’s muezzin like wail and spoken word vocal alongside the quartet’s rock and funk rhythms. Ugrin’s violin soars above Gregorka’s bubbling electric bass groove and Zurbi’s crisply propulsive drumming. Ogrin doubles on electric piano and analogue synth, soloing effectively on the latter. It’s a fascinating mix of East and West played with youthful brio.
Jointly written by Gregorka and Ugrin “Fractals” features Ogrin on acoustic piano on a lyrical intro. Elsewhere melody and lyricism is underpinned by a percolating Jaco like bass groove before Zurbi’s drum salvo ups the ante paving the way for some fast, tight unison passages. Next up is a rippling Rhodes solo from Ogrin and he’s followed by Ugrin on violin. There’s a lot going on here as the music constantly shifts shape and dynamics within the essentially fusion network.
Gregorka’s ” Low Rider” features his fluid electric bass on a breezy, good natured tune that also includes exuberant solos from Ugrin on violin and Ogrin on Rhodes. From the same writer “Mystic Symphony” is a genuine ballad with the composer’s liquid electric bass featuring prominently, from the group’s Facebook page it looks like a five string instrument. Elsewhere Ogrin conjures other worldly sounds from his keyboards and Ugrin expresses genuine emotion with the bow as Zurbi reveals a more sensitive side with his neatly brushed drum commentary.
“Ghost Chasers” is another Gregorka tune, this time an energetic funk workout kick-started by Zurbi’s drums and featuring fat bass grooves and dirty Hammond sounds. Ugrin’s treated violin soars in the places one might normally expect a guitar to be. There’s a scalding synth solo from Ogrin who utilises his various keyboards imaginatively throughout the album. The tune includes a surprisingly lyrical detour featuring Ugrin’s violin before before building again to climax with a series of drum breaks.
Ugrin’s “Bucharest 2012” was no doubt written to celebrate the group’s Europafest triumph. It’s a playful piece with the composer’s violin to the fore as the group embrace a variety of largely acoustic styles with Ogrin impressing on acoustic piano. An element of electricity remains courtesy of Gregorka’s slippery bass.
Also from the pen of the violinist “Easy Track To Dig” is based around Zurbi’s relaxed but implacable drum groove which complements a seductive melody that acts as the framework for elegant solos from Ogrin on acoustic piano and Gregorka on remarkably agile electric bass, the latter subsequently steering the tune in a more obviously funk direction. The composer’s strings are multi tracked to give something of a string section effect.
Gregorka’s “Piece Of Cake” opens with Ogrin’s synths imitating steel pans. It’s a delightfully playful piece full of tricky unison synth and bass lines and later grooving Fender Rhodes as the band embrace African and Caribbean rhythms. Great fun.
Also by the bassist “Enlightenment” is more orthodoxly funky albeit with a number of more lyrical detours along the way. A strong hook and groove powers the piece with solos coming from Ogrin on synth and Ugrin on treated violin plus some dazzling interplay between the pair propelled by the rumble of Gregorka’s bass and the drive of Zurbi’s drums.
The album comes full circle by ending with a vocal track, again written by Ugrin and this time featuring the words and voice of Illspokinn, the Brooklyn based hip hop artist who Ugrin doubtless met during his sojourn in New York. Illspokinn’s words eulogise this meeting of East and West and although I’m no hip hop fan his presence galvanises this extended funk workout with its wah wah violin and Hammond sounds.
Although the Artbeaters’ fusion sound is a style of music I’ve largely grown out of (and hip hop one I never grew into) I couldn’t help myself enjoying this album. The band make imaginative use of their instrumental template with an admirably colourful and varied set of compositions. Individually they are all brilliant technicians and although it ostensibly seems to be Ugrin’s band I’m loath to pick anyone out, all perform admirably and with great skill.
I often find that this music can sound better live than on disc - on record funk and fusion can often sound overproduced. However the youthful Artbeaters manage to retain something of an edge which suggests that their live shows must be hugely exciting affairs.blog comments powered by Disqus