The ethno jazz band Jazzanitza blends contemporary jazz with elements of Bulgarian and Balkan instrumental folk music. The musicians who gravitate around the band are among the first who received their jazz education abroad after the fall of communism (1989) and had the opportunity to incorporate the jazz language into their individual projects: Dimitar Liolev, Ludmil Krumov, Boris Taslev and Borislav Petrov are among the leading voices on the present day Bulgarian ethno jazz scene.
The album Jazzanitza was composed by drummer and aspiring ethnomusicologist Borislav Petrov. The music combines the stylistic features of recent jazz styles and carefully weaves them together with elements of traditional Balkan music, such as Bulgarian asymmetric dance rhythms, ornamented melodies and folkloric sensibility. Jazzanitza follows in the footsteps of the giants of Bulgarian instrumental folk and jazz music: Ivo Papasov, Peter Ralchev, Milcho Leviev, Theodosii Spassov, Antoni Donchev, and many more. Their work in the past 40 years has shown that East European folk and Western jazz can blend into vigorous, lively music that thumps with the hearty rhythms of the Balkans.
In Bulgarian language, the suffix “-nitza” appears at the end of many common feminine gender nouns. Some of them refer to popular foods like “lyutenitza” (a tomato and pepper spread) and “nadenitza” (sausage); some denote games like “krienitza” (hide and seek) and “gonenitza” (tag); and a few name popular folk dances in asymmetric meters like “ruchenitza” (in 7/8) and “kopanitza” (in 11/8).
Asymmetric rhythms (also known as additive, crooked and “aksak“) are irregularly pulsating dance rhythms, typical for the music of all Balkan peoples. They consist of long and short beats that directly correspond to dance steps. And while they sound unfamiliar outside the region because they groove differently from the regular measures typical of Western European music, dancing to those long and short beats comes naturally to all Balkan peoples. This is why blending such rhythms with any other music has the potential to create a smooth and naturally groovy musical form.
THE FIRST ALBUM
In the beginning of 2016, Jazzanitza released their debut world jazz album of the same name.
Here is what Borislav Petrov says about it:
“The journey to this album began about 16 years ago when I met saxophonist Dimitar Liolev who opened my eyes and heart to the magic of Bulgarian folk music. After many years of investigation, exploration and experiments, I finally got the courage to write music and assemble a band that reflects my ideas about blending jazz and Bulgarian folk music. I am happy to have some of my best friends in this band. These are the people I was fortunate to grow with as a musician. We are also all honoured to have one of the pioneers of Bulgarian folk jazz as a special guest in the band: the brilliant pianist and composer Antoni Donchev who is the bridge between two generations of Bulgarian jazz musicians.
THE COMPOSITIONS OF “JAZZANITZA”
Every album composition is dedicated to a specific person. “Gagarin” is inspired by one of my musical heroes, drummer Stoyan Yankoulov. He is one of the biggest innovators in Bulgarian drumming. “Culture Differences” is dedicated to kaval player Theodosii Spassov who once told me, ‘”There is something in Bulgarian folklore music that cannot be cultivated; something that is a true enigma to non-Bulgarians’. “Acikbas” is dedicated to a friend from my past — a talented singer from Turkey. We travelled the world together. There are also compositions written for some of the band members. “Pravo Kato Magistrala” is for Ludmil Krumov and “Ti Si Znaish, Maina” is for Dimitar Liolev.”