Music

Pianist Dimitrije Vasiljević Makes the Case for a Serbian Kind of Jazz

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Something other than 4/4 flows in the blood of Dimitrije Vasiljević, and his quintet is happy enough to flesh it out on Accidental Nomad.

Accidental Nomad
Dimitrije Vasiljević Quintet

Ropeadope

18 May 2018

"I come from Serbia; a land of rich history, medieval heritage, and odd meters."

That is a quick and very odd way to summarize one's cultural background, jazz pianist Dimitrije Vasiljević has a point in bringing this up in the electronic press kit for Accidental Nomad. It seems that when Serbs get together for a little sing-song event, they have a tendency to regale themselves in dance numbers that place an odd number on top of an even number in the meter. If you have ever tried to tap your foot to a song set to, say, 7/8 time, you're aware that it feels slightly counter-intuitive at first. For people like Vasiljević, it's slightly more intuitive for him than the rest of us. The Ropeadope record label may have an artist roster heavy on funk and soul, but Vasiljević's Accidental Nomad really puts a kink in the hip-sway of modern bop. Its element of surprise is a subtle one.

Accidental Nomad is a long album. Three of the album's eight songs exceed the ten-minute mark, bringing the overall total to an hour and seven minutes. That allows Vasiljević and his quintet to cycle through the grooves multiple times, winning your toes over with each rendition. The odd meters are played so easily that you certainly won't mind the repetition. The band, featuring Robert Brooks on tenor sax, José Guzman on electric guitar, Andrey Gonçalves on bass, and Andy Wheelock on drums, internalize these vamps quite convincingly. Opener "Fićir-bajir" is a prime example of just how infectious an odd groove can become, thanks in no small part to a memorable melody led by Brooks.

"Balkana Urbana" ups the ante with two distinct identities. The first one is built atop a light bounce with an added beat. Its fraternal twin section is more of a hard waltz, with ride cymbals, an ascending melodic figure in a minor key, and rolling piano arpeggios to round it all out. On the other hand, Vasiljević has no problem writing the occasional 4/4 passage like on "Just Fly" -- a title that probably foreshadows the oh-just-do-it nature of standard time. A high point that could easily slip under the radar is "Hidden Virtues". The melody isn't as pronounced, but the piano passages Vasiljević lays across his changes are sturdy enough on their own. Wheelock's slight-of-hand stickwork gives it the extra push. Hidden virtues, indeed.

Accidental Nomad is stuffed full of these moments where complex musical ideas come tumbling out in the simplest of ways. It's not your run-of-the-mill jazz album, but listening to it passively may render it as such. If you try not to let that happen, you'll be rewarded with the fruits of Dimitrije Vasiljević's quartet's labor.

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