New City Music

Goran Ivanovic is a multiculti wunderkind. A Croatian-born Chicagoan, he plays nylon-string classical guitar, with which he not only unleashes great stampeding Balkan rhythms, but intricate Middle Eastern and Asian-inspired cadences as well. On his trio’s newly released eponymous disc, he’s accompanied by Matt Ulery on electric bass and Pete Tashjian on drums and percussion, with a special guest appearance by Ian Maksin on cello.

“Alvorada Americana” is an irresistible opener, with big, open, Latin-flavored chords. The follow-up, “Maurice’s Ragtime” is no ragtime at all, its pulsing, percussive rhythm being of an entirely different order—more cinematic; you could cut a chase scene to it. Tashjian really owns the first half of this tune… though there’s a mid-song section in which Ivanovic essentially steps aside and beautifully ruminates on what’s going on around him, in wide, liquid phrases. By the time he ushers Tashjian back in, they’ve achieved a more equal footing. Maksin joins the ensemble on “Tic Tac Toe,” and in the opening measures his cello announces itself with such majestic resonance you might feel it vibrating in your pelvis. And his use of the bow has a giddily disorienting effect.

“Sick Puppy” is one of the few tunes that actually seems to reflect its title. It’s a jarring, staccato piece that evokes panic, desperation, a sense of imminent loss of control—a kind of gorgeously scored nervous breakdown. Ivanovic really shows tremendous range here; despite the nature of the tune, he never indiscriminately slashes at his chords—he plays all those jagged convulsions with jaw-dropping precision.

In “Athina,” melody just gushes from Ivanovic’s guitar, in great waves that pitch and yaw and shift from major to minor; and behind it all, Matt Ulery spools out an ascending line that’ll make you sit up straighter in your chair, like it might just take you with it. But possibly my favorite cut is nearer the end; “Tomoko In Rain” engages, as the title suggests, in some ruminative Japanese-style passages; but there are also some furious Latin-tinged moments. It’s also a solo piece—just Ivanovic’s guitar—so it may be the most personal cut; a peek at a corner of his inner sound world.  (Robert Rodi)

“Goran Ivanovic Trio” is available from iTunes, Amazon, and the other usual sources.


Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago-based guitarist Goran Ivanovic has shared the stage with boundary-pushing local artists including current Claudettes’ drummer Michael Caskey in the pair’s former group Eastern Blok, as well as classical and jazz master Fareed Haque and renowned cellist Ian Maksin. The Croatian native’s stirring style incorporates jazz, traditional Balkan, flamenco and classical styles.

Ivanovic’s rich discography is often signified by “Seven Boats,” a powerful collaboration with Haque released in 2004 that made a strong impression with its unusual fusion of classical, jazz and world music influences. The title track was reprised on an eponymous 2005 release by the Goran Ivanovic Group. Other key collaborations included 2009’s duo album with innovative Greek-American Chicago-based fingerstyle guitarist Andreas Kapsalis.

Currently, Ivanovic is celebrating the debut release by his Goran Ivanovic Trio with bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Pete Tashjian. The trio are recognized for their individual virtuosity, but they show particular excellence as a unit able to stop on a dime and twist gracefully through the trickiest hairpin turns together on local stages including those at City Winery and the Whistler. The trio’s upcoming show is a return visit to Jazz Showcase.

The trio’s new album features concert highlights like the spirited roots-music influence of “Alvorada Americana,” in which Ivanovic tumbles through lilting arpeggios and chiming harmonics on his nylon-string guitar before the rhythm joins him in crashing acoustic rock. The moody and haunting “Patient Zero” creates a disquieted but compelling mood. “Querido Paco” pays homage to flamenco giant Paco De Lucia.

Maksin joins the trio for the undulating “Maurice’s Ragtime,” a beautifully impressionistic piece honoring French composer Maurice Ravel with its intoxicating and sublime atmosphere. If it’s not in the set list at Jazz Showcase when Maksin shares the bill with Ivanovic, patrons should demand it as an encore.

Minor 7th

Usually guitarists playing a Richard Brune classical guitar can be found on recordings of Bach and Tarrega, but here we find Goran Ivanovic serving up jazz, Latin and Spanish rhythms on his Goran Ivanovic Trio release. Along with bassist Matt Ulery and percussionist Pete Tashjian, Ivanovic delivers the goods with strong grooves and rock solid rhythms, exploring textures and colors not as easily rendered on an archtop or electric. One thinks back to Charlie Byrd and his early use of classical guitar in jazz. Ivanovic is a Balkan ethnic mix, and his multi-cultural background serves him well in producing music that goes beyond borders or facile genres. The nine tracks showcase a solid guitarist who works seamlessly with the rest of his trio. "Alvorada American" has an almost metal, driving figure, but Ivanovic uses harmonics and treble melody lines to fill it out. "Maurice's Ragtime" is not like what we might think, sharing some of the drivnig rhythm of "Alvorada American." Scott Joplin it isn't. Ian Maksin adds sweet cello to the elegiac "Tic Tac Toe," the most contemplative piece on the CD. "Sick Puppy" is a study in staccato chords moving in and out of melody, with percussion adding force and depth. Ivanovic returns to fingerpicking patterns in "Athina," flowing from major to minor themes, with Tashjian lending sparkle and shimmer on percussion. "Patient Zero" develops an almost minimalist progression, with variations and a center section that reminds the listener of Middle Eastern melodies. In what sounds like an homage to the flamenco innovator Paco de Lucia, "Querido Paco" is filled with aural images of his playing, though without some of Paco's signature fiery runs. The CD ends with "Beleza," opening with cascading harmonics into a march, a kind of nuevo flamenco ode. This is a solid offering from a guitarist and his mates in jazz on nylon stringed guitar. Great for this afternoon in the winter sun.

South Bend Tribune

Music critics have a tendency to describe the music of Goran Ivanovic as “Balkan jazz,” even though the guitarist left his Balkan homeland decades ago and his music has only a tenuous connection to jazz.

Nevertheless, “Balkan jazz” is a term that conveys at least some idea of how Ivanovic’s music works, and it’s a lot more specific than “world fusion” or other such meaningless phrases.

On the Goran Ivanovic Trio’s new, self-titled album, the songs have a Balkan flavor, and they include a lot of quick-witted improvisation, but there’s more happening than just “Balkan jazz.” The primary sound is that of a guitarist finding his voice as a composer, bandleader and soloist, as he and his band will demonstrate Saturday at Merrimans’ Playhouse in South Bend.

“On this new album, there’s a wide variety of feels and concepts,” Ivanovic says by telephone from his home in Chicago. “Some of the songs are more folk and Americana styles. Some songs are fully based on Balkan rhythms and combining different meters. I like to have a diverse palette of things to wrap my brain around, and to get them to the point where they’re interesting and fun for me to do.”

Although the music has little to do with jazz guitar traditions — no Charlie Christian or Wes Montgomery licks here — jazz clubs remain the best fit for Ivanovic, because those are the places that attract the audiences who gravitate toward instrumental improvisations, unusual chords and colorful experiments in new music-making.

Tracks on the new album can bring to mind anything from flamenco to progressive rock. In the case of a cut called “Patient Zero,” listeners should be able to detect those styles and others as well.

“With ‘Patient Zero,’ parts of it could be a heavy metal band,” Ivanovic says. “Other parts could be some weird fusion jazz band from the ’70s.”

The child of a Serbian father and a Croatian mother, Ivanovic grew up in Osijek, a city in the former Yugoslavia. He went abroad to study at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 1989, and soon after that, the civil war back home forced his parents to flee their homeland. They joined him in Austria and then all of them moved together to the United States.

Some fans are a little surprised that politics don’t play a more prominent role in Ivanovic’s music, but these events all happened quite some time ago, and he doesn’t want to be defined by prior traumas.

“My family and I moved away from a hostile situation in the former Yugoslavia in the early ’90s. We moved here to start a new life,” he says. “I still speak with an accent, so people will ask me how I like it here in America. I’ll say that it’s been great to me for the past 20 years.”

The new trio album showcases Ivanovic’s classical guitar skills alongside the electric bass of Matt Ulery and the drums of Pete Tashjian.

The repertoire isn’t based on chord progressions or riffs. The improvisations pivot on Balkan modes and scales.

Ivanovic continues to make progress attracting new listeners, and many of them are knowledgeable connoisseurs in the contemporary music scene. Occasionally, he’ll also come across a fan who likes the exotic timbres, even if a lot of what’s happening remains opaque.

“It does bother me when people will tell me that it reminds them of Gipsy Kings,” he says with a laugh.

The Gipsy Kings’ sound revolves around a rumba-based situation. It’s a terrific act, indeed, but it’s music that’s almost completely unrelated to what Ivanovic is doing.

“In the past, it would make me a little upset,” he says. “Now, I just tell them that maybe they might want to check out Paco de Lucia, too.”


Join the email list!

Follow me on Facebook