In his fourth album, Heartmony, Bulgarian-born guitarist and composer Hristo Vitchev teams with his pianist doppelganger, Weber Iago, for a melodious exploration of “the endless array of emotions,” the composer explains in the liner notes, he feels “every single day.” This is harmony from the heart as the album title, perhaps too cleverly for the sincerity it means to indicate, suggests. “The eleven compositions presented here,” Vitchev says, “are the most honest and direct message[s] I have ever let out of my heart.”
Vitchev and Iago play together with the assurance born of long and fruitful collaboration. They know each other well, and it shows in the skillful way they complement each other. Iago says, “I have come to expect nothing but excellence from Vitchev’s pen.” He talks about how “pleased and fulfilled” he is “with each new idea, sound and concept.” The title, he adds, is “much more than a clever play on words.” It is “the very definition of harmonious sounds from the heart healing energy that will embrace you long after you listen to it.” Discounting some for hyperbole, these are the words of one artist who buys into another artist’s vision.
Now, though it might be churlish, one could argue that while heartfelt sincerity is nice and all that, it doesn’t always produce great art. Art is, after all, artifice. Great art gets the audience to believe that it’s sincere even when it is blatantly not. Putting aside the commentary, then, the music on Heartmony, whether heartfelt or manipulative, fairly reeks with the feeling of sincerity. Still one would hope that musicians with their talent would have been able to play with excellence even if they didn’t feel quite so emotionally attached to the material.
Vitchev’s music is accessible jazz that plays with the mellower colors of the music. Less cerebral than the post-modern experimentalists, it is music that in many respects harkens back to the glory days of modern jazz. More often than not it has a quiet beauty that can be tinged with sadness as in the opening bars of “Prelude to a Melancholic Heart,” or filled with dynamic passion as in “Musica Humana.” Vitchev and Iago take a beautiful melody and run with it. They wring every bit of emotion out of it. There are passages in a composition like “Memories in Black and White,” nocturnal moments in “The Last Leaves which Fell in Fall,” that sound like they could have been written by a nineteenth century Polish Romantic. Then there are moments in the same songs where there are glints of French Impressionists. It may be the lush playing of Iago, but there is often a classical elegance to the music.
Perhaps the one tune on the album that has a different vibe is the last section of a three-movement piece called “Farewell.” Titled “And May We Meet Again,” it is an uptempo work with a dominating Latin beat, and it programmatically suggests hope for the future lost in the first two sections, “Prelude to an Act of Departure” and “The Imperative Expression.” Indeed, all of the music on the album can be read as a contemporary take on classical program music.
Vitchev plays both the acoustic and electric guitar. Iago does the percussion as well as the piano, and even adds some vocalise on “Crepuscular Rays.”
Let me close with the liner’s definition. “Heartmony: the simultaneous combination of feelings and emotions, especially when produced by experiences, memories, and stimulations pleasing to the heart, body, and soul.” Music, they say, hath charms.