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Chuck Perrin brought guitarist Hristo Vitchev and his unusual trio of vibraphonist Christian Tamburr and pianist Weber Iago into 98 Bottles for a night of super-charged melodic, celebratory music making.

Trios minus bass and drums run the inherent risk of bogging down under the weight of too much harmony--as well as the lack of propulsion that a conventional rhythm section could afford.

Thankfully, Vitchev, Iago and Tamburr have a long history together, and the potential for overcrowding was never an issue.

The spirit of Pat Metheny is a palpable force in the guitarist's music--both from a compositional standpoint--and as an improvisational touchstone. Vitchev referenced the archetypal Metheny sequence first heard on "Phase Dance," several times--almost like sharing an inside joke with his bandmates and the audience.

Opening with "Memories of Black & White," from his brand-new CD Heartmony, Vitchev activated a series of rolling arpeggios that involved fingerings that could break a man's digits, while piano and vibes found perfect spots to join the blend. Tamburr stuck to a 2 mallet approach most of the evening--allowing for a more focused melodic attack--yet retaining a definite imprint of the influence of Gary Burton's lush contours, somehow.

Tamburr chose Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up," as a cover--milking the theme in a reverential fashion that reminded me of how Keith Jarrett can squeeze all of the emotion from a tune like "When You Wish Upon A Star."

One of the evening's highlights came on the guitarist's re-imagining of a Bulgarian folk tune, which seemed to bring out the passion and logic from everyone--Vitchev and Iago both turned in breathtaking solos. There was the cinematic mood-shifts of "The Farewell," which drew lithe, blues-inflected commentary from the guitarist--and the dense, almost Baroque feel of Iago's "Aurora," which raced and danced around a myriad of complex harmonies. Tamburr's "Leap," was especially effective--it seemed to come from a vibe similar to those classic Steve Swallow compositions that Burton, Jarrett and others used to great effect in the '70s.

They saved the best for last with Vitchev's "Crepuscular Rays," a gorgeous tune that reminded me of the harmonic framework of Metheny's Secret Story era compositions. Iago turned in his best solo--full of gospel and country inflections and in turn inspiring Tamburr to shine with an ecstatic statement that quoted the melody from "Minuano," at its climax.

Vitchev, Iago and Tamburr are onto something here, and I'll be looking forward to what they come up with next.

Photo by Eileen Kocherhans

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