Something of a cult figure in his Bulgarian homeland, Ateshkhan Yuseinov is a guitar maverick whose unique approach combines both his Balkan and jazz influences. From impossibly intricate guitar improvisations to sublime balladry, Strange Suite also features two-time beatbox world champion SkilleR.
With a lifetime of rushing from wedding celebrations to concert halls with minutes to spare, it’s hard to imagine how Ateshkhan Yuseinov (Atesh to his friends) has found the time to nurture and develop his totally singular approach to the guitar, which has earned him a cult status in his native Bulgaria. With his lightning fast improvisations and sublime balladry, Atesh is always looking to charter new territory, as he combines the fast rhythms and changes of Balkan folk music with the expressive freedom of jazz – all the more remarkable considering that Bulgaria doesn’t have a guitar heritage of its own. Equally at home on other traditional string instruments including the saz and tambura,Atesh is well grounded in his native musical culture, which enables him to pay due respect to his musical forbears, whilst taking the listener on a musical journey far beyond the Balkans.
Like many great Bulgarian instrumentalists, Atesh began his musical career as a wedding musician and attended the Bulgarian School of Wedding Music, well-known for its unique blend of Bulgarian folk music and various modern forms from pop and rock to jazz and experimental. Since then he has been a mainstay and go-to man for many of Bulgaria’s finest and most well-known musicians and has performed all over the world with Ivo Papasov & His Bulgarian Wedding Band.
Whether he is playing in the intimate atmosphere of a jazz bar, at an open-air festival, with legendary clarinettist Ivo Papazov or in a cutting-edge experimental ensemble, Atesh’s musicianship is always overflowing with infinite creativity and energy, which has culminated in this stellar collection of pieces. As jazz critic Ludmil Fotev explains ‘Ateshkhan builds his universe like a craftsman who takes in everything he can, then recreates it through his own vision’.
The album opener ‘Atesh'sBalkan Flamenco’ sees Atesh set the scene with a beautiful Spanish-tinged acoustic intro before rocketing into full-on overdrive with his band, as they push the envelope of jazz fusion to the max. Likewise the title track from the album ‘Strange Suite’, the most recognisably jazz-infused piece, highlights his impossibly intricate guitar work as the band seamlessly negotiates its unpredictable rhythmic twists and turns.
Along with the razor-sharp backing of his like-minded friends on bass and drums, Strange Suite sees Atesh team up with the most unlikely of musical collaborators, the two-time beatbox world champion Alexander Deyanov aka SkilleR. By no means an accidental partnership, Atesh’s friendship with SkilleR goes a long way back with their mutual respect having helped spawn previous ideas and projects. Both ‘Fire Bees In A Box’ and ‘9/8’ see the two go head-to-head, as they treat the listener to an absolute masterclass in rhythmic gymnastics and innovation.
Atesh paid enormous attention to the running order of the album which in his words creates a ‘very dynamic journey for the audience’. From start to finish the ebb and flow of Strange Suite keeps the listener on their toes, as he follows his rip-roaring duals with SkilleR with the most sublime and tender of ballads, including ‘Sunrise Over The Balkans’, where he employs the soaring and atmospheric sound of the kaval (Balkan woodwind flute) to great effect. Likewise, he draws on the beautiful vocal skills of his wife and long-term musical partner Venera Todorova on ‘Elena’, the only traditional piece on the album, masterfully arranged by Atesh himself. No other track encapsulates his creativity and inner desire for musical expression more than the closing instrumental, fittingly titled ‘My Spirit’, which winds things down to an almost meditative resolution, thus ending a journey of creative realisation by a truly pioneering guitarist.