Wednesday 28 April 2021

'Reflections' by Ugljesa Novakovic

'Reflections' marks the brand new release from saxophonist Ugljesa Novakovic whose sophomore album finds itself at home on Italy's A.MA Records.

Novakovic has long been a flag waver for his native, Serbian, jazz and is an artist who has long committed his efforts towards seeing its rise in prominence on a global platform.  And it would be fair to say that Serbian jazz artists are certainly due their recognition - theirs is a musical scene which would potentially be remiss to refer to as burgeoning or up and coming seeing as it has actually been bursting with talent and unbridled energy for many years.  

Names like fellow A.MA recording artist - saxophonist, vocalist and producer - Sanja Markovic, spring to mind as do the affectionate and warm compositions from piano-led collective, Majamisty TriO, as shining examples of Serbia's incredibly high standard.  With the release of Novakovic's 'Reflections', however, the boundlessly talented artist strives to raise the bar once again in a bid to help Serbian jazz ascend to an even higher plateau. 

Novakovic already boasts extensive credits to his achievements thus far - a seasoned live performer having graced stages across Europe for years, Novakovic has chalked up collaborations and performances with revered names like Gregory Hutcherson, Tony Lakatosh, Mario Gonzy, Dusko Gojkovic, Big Band RTSerbia, Big Band CroatianTV, Soul Conection Big Band, Belgrade Saxophone Quartet.  'Tales From The Past', the debut album from Ugljesa Novakovic, was also met with rave reviews for his outstanding vision and his ability to build upon the music of jazz pioneers and icons while still steering his music into new territories.

As with 'Tales From The Past', 'Reflections' continues positioning Novakovic amongst a quintet setting with a fantastic line-up of Serbian talent: Aleksandar Cvetkovic on drums, Andreja Stankovic features on guitar - the only musician to transition over from the 'Tales' line-up into the 'Reflections' ensemble; pianist Aleksander Grujic and double-bassist Milan Nikolic round out the quintet who each hold the distinction of featuring heavily on Sanja Markovic's exquisite A.MA debut, 'Ascension'.

And then of course throughout 'Reflections' is the auspicious presence of Laura!  Serving as something of a muse for Novakovic, we encounter Laura at various stages throughout the album from "sleeping" to "playing" to "dreaming" and her presence helps to drive this affectionate narrative over the course of the album's seven tracks.  From the sublime and meditative opening number, 'Intro - Laura's Sleeping', which beautifully transitions into 'Zen Warrior' slowly taking its time to build the track around Grujic's piano keys.  So effective are the album's opening few minutes that Novakovic has earned your trust almost immediately and can readily steer the album into any direction he wishes.  'Laura's Playing' is presented with the bouncy and joyous energy that the title would suggest and 'Ambivalence - Belgrade Tango Suite' delivers as the album's masterful centrepiece.

'Reflections' has the difficult task of having to carry the weight of its creator's expectations on its shoulders - the desire to represent Serbian jazz and its artists, to deliver a worthy successor to 'Tales From The Past' and deliver a project befitting the outstanding lineage of A.MA releases.  Does Ugljesa Novakovic achieve this?  Well, let's just say that Laura would be immeasurably proud.

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