CD / Vinyl: Archtop Avenue

Press Release

Review by Adam Baruch

Ratko Zjaca – “Archtop Avenue – Solo Guitar”

This is a solo guitar album by Croatian (resident in Netherlands) Jazz guitarist / composer Ratko Zjaca. The album presents twelve tracks, three of which are original compositions by Zjaca and the remaining nine are Jazz standards. Each of the tracks was recorded using a different archtop guitar, each built by a different luthier, and the album is obviously as much a tribute to the Art of archtop luthiery, as to the music itself.

The naked solo instrumental albums are always a tremendous challenge to any musician, and the courage needed to attempt such projects is often as bold as the talent and performance skills needed to realize them. Zjaca, who is one of the most prolific and busy European Jazz musicians, certainly has all the ingredients needed to undertake a solo guitar recording, backed by his extensive experience, but no less importantly his love of Jazz and the guitar. All of this is immediately apparent when the music start to play…

The selection of tunes is certainly another evidence of the fact that this album is a true labor of love. There are no easy pieces here, and the highly individual and non-trivial treatment they receive here is a reflection of Zjaca’s passion. The music often moves away from the familiar melody line and the improvisations float freely, but the music stays coherent and an attentive listener is always able to follow the Artist’s intentions, smiling gently when the music finally returns to the familiar phrases.

It will take several repeated listening sessions to discover all the layers of this album, as it is rich in ideas and clever arrangements; a delightful musical experience for sure, for anybody who truly loves Jazz, improvisation and the sweet sound of guitar in the hands of a Master musician.

Overall, this is a deeply rewarding listening experience, for all Jazz lovers and certainly for guitar connoisseurs, who will find here a whole world of music, that never stops to amaze. Once you are through with digesting the tunes, you are welcome to compare the intricate sound subtleties between the twelve instruments Zjaca utilizes here. Enjoy the trip!

Review by Bill Milkowski

The guitarist takes a suitably dissonant approach on the intro to “MONK’S DREAM” before injecting a sense swing, along with a touch of playful irreverence, on the familiar melody. Note his “chunking” rhythm guitar work here, along with his percussive hitting of the strings with his right hand to provide that swinging momentum. “Monk is one of my favorite composers and he is extremely interesting for playing solo guitar,” said Zjaca. “What I love most about his compositions is a hidden sophisticated humor that runs through his music.”

Ratko’s three originals are performed on three different guitars. “WAY TO GO” is a modal form with a passing reference to John Coltrane’s “RESOLUTION” from A Love Supreme. “DREAM OF TOMORROW” is a challen- ging piece full of time signature changes, while “THE HEART OF TIME” (7-string) is an evocative number that has the guitarist exploring the full depth of the added low A string for covering rich bass lines.

Zjaca’s classical studies come to the fore on his brilliant, contrapuntal rendering of “ALONE TOGETHER”, which is full of intricate string skipping and marked by a kind of beautiful dance between single note lines and rich chord melody playing .As he explained, “I have been playing classical guitar for a long time and I work a lot on my solo repertoire and studying harmony and counterpoint. Scarlatti is one of my favorites composer and I spent a lot of time analyzing his music, which is the bible of counterpoint.” By the 2:08 mark, he introduces a swing factor before returning to the classically influenced form.

His take on “POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS” is another masterful example of fingerstyle jazz.”That’s a song that I like to play and is extremely popular to play on the guitar,” said Ratko. “I always try to play naturally and improvise on the melody of the song and build new motifs and interplay between the harmony.”

Ratko concludes Archtop Avenue with a deft take on the 1926 Gershwin tune “SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME”, which finds him striking a nice balance between chord melody playing, bass lines and single note melodies .”It’s a beautiful ballad is also a challenge to play,” he explained. “And I wanted to end this story of my long-term research on archtop guitars with this tune.”

Dedicated to the world’s most famous guitar builders and inspired by a list of musical teachers who opened up his musical horizons, from Joe Pass and Jim Hall to Joe Diorio, Mick Goodrick and Vic Juris, Archtop Avenue is a compelling addition to the canon of solo guitar and a crowning achievement in Zjaca’s career to date.

Bill Milkowski is a longtime contributor to Downbeat and Guitar Player and is also co-author of “Here And Now! The Autobiography of Pat Martino” (Backbeat Books), the author of a biography of bassist Jaco Pastorius, and the author of a “Ode To A Tenor Titan: The Life and Times and Music of Michael Brecker”.

Jazzthetik – Jazz magazine

By Lothar Trampert, November 2023

Alone on the string street

From the first note you are taken in by this warm instrumental sound, recorded dry, without reverb or room. The recording sounds as if the artist was sitting directly opposite one of the artists with a guitar and a small amplifier and playing. Zjaca does this in a very unique way. He weaves bass tones between chords and melodies, he apparently uses all the possibilities that arise between a maximum of six-part harmonies and single-note lines.

Its rhythm is reserved, precise, but not as marching as some of Joe’s Pass solo recordings, harmonies and chord melody fragments bubble through the standards here. Jim Hall would have liked it, and certainly Attila Zoller, who acted much more freely and rougher, would have liked it.

John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament” then shows a very strong aitarian language in the arrangement of the theme, because this interpretation is very independent and idiosyncratic.

Here the guitarist doesn’t primarily want to impress with his virtuosity he expresses his feelings for this composition and also takes risks very directly. Then, in complete contrast to the piano, the strings on the guitar creak and exude an energetic acoustic life of their own. You have to be able to do that!

Ratko Zjaca learned it. After completing his education at the Rotterdam Conservatory, where he studied jazz guitar, composition and Indian classical music, he enrolled at the New York University School of Music. He also attended master classes with guitarist Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie, Mick Goodrick, the trombonist and arranger Bob Brookmeyer and the Indian master of the bansuri flute, Hariprasad Chaurasia.

Back to the music of Archtop Avenue and to “Monk’s Dream”: I’ve never heard a guitarist so atmospherically correct Pianist Thelonious Monk’s fascinatingly angular, slightly rumbling approach is transferred to the six strings of the guitar. Ratko Ziaca’s game is an experience. His openness, versatility and playful spontaneity as an improviser and also as a composer are a rare stroke of luck in the guitar scene. A musician that you should discover, because with this solo album Ratko Zjaca has finally moved into the top league, where he shines in the shadow of the really big names.

skjazz – 5-star review

By Patrick Spanko

Croatian guitarist and composer Ratko Zjaca is one of the most active artists on the European jazz scene! He currently resides in the Netherlands, where he also works as a teacher. In our editorial office, we have already reviewed several of his projects, most recently his ZZ Quartet. At the end of last year, he delighted jazz and especially jazz guitar enthusiasts, because with his new album he undertook the difficult task of recording a completely solo album. Solo albums are always a big test for an artist, and even more so with a guitar, where the space remains empty, so artists tend to overwhelm it with effects as much as possible and help themselves with loopers to achieve a slightly fuller band sound. However, Ratko Zjaca conceived the album in a very traditional way and decided to invent it without using a looper or exaggerated modulations or layering of recorded tracks. The result is a very ambitious acoustic pure jazz album that pays tribute to the traditional archtop jazz guitar. Zjaca has been exploring the playing possibilities of these exceptional acoustic-electric instruments for a long time, and with this album he also wanted to pay tribute to the greatest instrument makers and innovators of this type of guitar, such as John D’Angelico, Jimmy D’Aquisto, Chris Mirabella, Bryant Trenier, Linda Manzer, Bob Benedetto , Jim Triggs and many others. Each song is played on a different archtop guitar, so it’s actually a showcase of different models. In addition to instrumentalists, Ratko also indirectly pays tribute to the greats of solo jazz guitar such as Joe Pass and Jim Hall. However, among the inspirations, he found his unique language in very intelligent arrangements. The tradition of the album does not stem only from the guitars themselves. The music offers us 12 compositions, 9 of which are jazz standards and 3 compositions are from our own pen. I think it was a great choice of repertoire and it underlines Ratko’s relationship to the jazz tradition and the desire to penetrate deeply into the traditional sound of the jazz guitar through the American jazz songbook. However, at the same time, he tries to modernize this tradition and place it in the context of contemporary jazz and modern jazz language, but in a non-violent way. Thanks to this, the listener will hear 12 excellent compositions, which will offer space and fullness of sound with thoughtful arrangements and reharmonization for solo guitar. This masterpiece is the culmination of a long effort. Fantastic phrasing, harmonic freshness and inventiveness, immediate, brilliant improvisations frame this carefully chosen repertoire. In it we can also find complete classics such as Body and Soul or Alone Together, but also less sophisticated modern standards. He opens the whole album with the song Body and Soul, which was a brave step, as it is one of the most played standards, but I must say that Ratko was able to find his own recipe in the form of a fresh arrangement even for a standard that has been worn out so many times. I was also charmed by his arrangement of Coltrane’s Lonnie’s Lament, where he reached for modern voicings and an open solo playing that breathed space. He showed his skills in modern jazz with elements of blues in his own energetic song Way to Go. His work with space and feeling for atmosphere, melancholy and emotion showed in his own ballad The Dream of Tomorrow. His modern conception of compositions for solo jazz guitar brilliantly brightened up the standard repertoire. The fantastic album with a varied dramaturgy ends very traditionally with the song Someone to Watch Over Me by George Gershwin. The Archtop Avenue album is an extraordinary effort in solo jazz guitar. Here, Ratko Zjaca showed a unique feeling for space, rhythm, improvisation, phrasing, guitar tone and jazz tradition, which he planted in the form of modern jazz mainstream. However, he managed all this in the very difficult role of solo guitar. Don’t miss this solo masterpiece!

National Magazine

By Dubravko Jagatic

A unique album in the world

One of the most successful and respected innovative Croatian jazz guitarists, Ratko Zjaca, recorded his 17th album, which is in many ways unique in the world. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the famous album “Virtuoso”, a superb solo jazz musician by one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time, Joe Pass, with more music.

Zjaca loved and played the guitar and Joe was his teacher at the conservatory in Rotterdam.The album “Archtop Avenue” is a kind of thanks and homage to the great Joe Pass.

Zjaca not only showed again why he is among the one of the top jazz guitarists in the world, but he went one step further. The so-called archtop guitars are acoustic or semi-acoustic guitars with a full body and a distinctive arched top, the sound of which is particularly popular among jazz, blues and rockabilly players. Prone to these guitars, Zjaca paid tribute to their most famous builders with this album, such as John D’Angelico, Jimmy D’Aquisto, Chris Mirabella, Bryant Trenier, Linda Manzer, Bob Benedetto, Jim Triggs.

So on the album we can play 12 different archtop guitars of the most famous builders in the last 100 years through Zjaca’s performance of original compositions and covers by legendary jazz musicians such as Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, etc. Twelve solo compositions by a top guitarist virtuoso performed on 12 different guitars make up, without any doubt, a unique album, both in terms of idea and concept, and because of the fact that after Passo, few dared to compose and record guitar solo jazz albums. With his quiet, sincere, passionate and emotional approach, Zjaca breathed a new life into the sound of guitars.

Life also gave recognition to their builders greater than any award or monument. A superb piece of music for all true guitar jazz lovers.

Jazz Thing Magazine – by Christoph Giese, January 2024

The booklet shows them all, all the archtop guitars that Ratko Zjaca plays on his solo album. Each piece on a different instrument. For this reason alone, each of the nine jazz standards and the three original compositions sounds very individual. But also because the Croatian-born artist respects the harmonic contours and melodies of the originals in his cover versions, but always personalizes them through improvisational nuances, reharmonizations and small, rhythmic shifts. And with a lot of respect for the works of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and George Gershwin. What makes this very tasteful album so worth listening to is that Zjaca doesn’t even show off his great skills as a guitarist. It’s always about the song in question, about emotion. “Archtop Avenue” offers true soul food for the ears, not just for guitar fans.

Rondo – Das Klassik- & Jazz-Magazin – by Werner Stiefele

Die Archtop Avenue ist keine Straße in irgendeiner amerikanischen Großstadt. Ratko Zjaca meint mit der „Archtop Avenue“ eine Galerie von Gitarren, die – das versteht man unter der Archtop-Bauweise – ähnlich wie Geigen über eine gewölbte Decke verfügen. Zwölf solche Instrumente setzt er auf dem Solowerk ein, für jedes Stück eine andere mit etwas anderer Klangcharakteristik. Zum warmen, vollen Vintage-Klang der zwischen 1934 und 2014 gebauten Gitarren passt die Titelauswahl: Neun Standards und drei Eigenkompositionen.
Dass ihn Joe Pass’ Virtuoso-LPs aus den 1970ern beeinflusst haben, schimmert im Ineinandergreifen von Akkord- und Melodiespiel, angedeuteten Basslinien sowie den melodiebildenden Akkordreihen seiner Interpretationen durch. Er umgarnt die Themen von „Body and Soul“, „Prelude To A Kiss“, „Monk’s Dream“ und all den anderen Klassikern mit Tongirlanden, entfernt sich zurückhaltend von den Themen, lässt sie aber nie in Vergessenheit geraten. Und dabei swingt er, als habe er sich seit frühen Kindheitstagen mit nichts anderem als dem klassischen Jazz befasst. Tatsächlich hat er bei den Meistern Joe Pass, Joe Diorio, Mick Goodrick, Jim Hall und Vic Juris studiert.
Zjacas eigene Kompositionen weichen ein wenig von der vertrauten Melodieseligkeit der Standards ab. „Way To Go“ kreist wie manche Stücke von Larry Coryell um eine aus der Tiefe aufsteigende Figur. Mit „The Dream Of Tomorrow“ schwebt er im besinnlichen Auf und Ab der Linien, und für „The Heart Of Time“ greift er zu einer siebensaitigen Archtop, was ihm die Gelegenheit zu einer besonders markanten Bassbegleitung gibt. Trotz des eigenen Charakters fügen sich diese Stücke bruchlos in den Reigen der großen, alten Nummern, den „Alone Together“, „Polka Dots and Moonbeams“ und „Someone To Watch Over Me“ beschließen.

Concerto – 5-star review

Guitar Acoustic Magazine

The end result is an Album that you can listen to, enjoy and use “for your own further education” on very different levels: Firstly, there is the consistently warm, soft sound of the relaxed archtops, in which you can literally bathe; Without consciously perceiving a note, let alone following the harmonies carefully, you can surrender to this flow of sound.

CD / Double vinyl: Midnight in Europe

Midnight in Europe




CD: ZZ Quartet – Midnight in Europe

ZZ Quartet – These are mainly the charismatic Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and the Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini! They were joined by experienced rhythm fighters such as Macedonian double bassist Martin Gjakonowski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum. Zjaca and Zanchini represent an eclectic ensemble of music, in which aspects of jazz, classical, folklore, world music and rock are mixed organically, while the fruitful fantasy of these stellar improvisers also has a touch of humor. Ratko is an innovative musician who is widely recognized as a technically advanced guitarist. He is known as a tireless individualist, which is reflected in his improvisational style. Ratko has a prolific and extensive history of recording sessions as a guitarist who has played on many released recordings. He is a very versatile player who devotes himself to many areas of music, but he is best known for his work in modern jazz and improvisational idioms. Simone is one of the most interesting and innovative accordionists on the international stage, researching contemporary music, acoustics and electronics, sound experiments and cultivated contamination, without forgetting tradition, resulting in a very personal approach to improvisation. The album Midnight in Europe a contains original compositions by both main protagonists.This ensemble, which was created only a few years ago, speaks to the listeners in countless languages, with different colors and tastes, mixed with joy and fantasy!

Musica Jazz, Italy

Vinylmine, Greece

Vinyl Fan, Germany

This double LP is the big and positive surprise of Records Store Day 2021. A Croat, an Italian, a Macedonian and an American – this is the basis for an extremely exciting musical mixture, which starts with (American) jazz and essentially European style elements such as folklore, world music, and even rock. A factor that I cannot ignore is the Mediterranean flair that defines this music.

I cannot answer whether it is because these concert recordings were made in the Milestone Jazz Club Piacenza and in La Cantina Bentivoglio for the Bologna Jazz Festival in Italy. The romantic to wistful and yet so light as a feather pieces, characterized by the accordion of Zanchini and the guitar of Ratko Zjaca, are juxtaposed with fast-paced and lively compositions. There are complicated tempo changes as well as relaxed, beautiful melodies to melt away. The resulting areas of tension and musical surprises are among the really brilliant moments of this double LP.

The perfect, analog mastering, together with the chic fold-out cover and the liner notes, rounded off a first-class publication – my top recommendation!

JazzNu, Netherlands

ZZ Quartet is much more than guitar and accordeon.

You have to wait until the second part of the CD ‘Midnight in Europe’ to hear the guitar sound of Ratko Zjaca. But then there is also a business card attached to it: one that mentions fantasy, strength, purity and excitement. And that leaves room for the other three band members of the ZZ Quartet, because they are more than worth listening to.

An accordeon claims a prominent place in every combination in which it appears. It is no different with the ZZ Quartet. The instrument, which can cry like no other, can evoke emotions and false emotions, is therefore vulnerable at the same time. Because why should you be at the forefront if you can only express emotions and not tell a story? That is not the case with Simone Zanchini: he captivates from the first to the very last note.

The ZZ Quartet is of the adventurous kind. Guitar and accordeon may often set the tone, but they don’t do it in a stifling way. Midnight in Europe is therefore an intriguing album that invites you to listen again and again. To discover again and again that this music is inexhaustible.

Adam Baruch

Overall this is an excellent album, full of great music and exciting performances, with a unique sound and atmosphere, which consolidates Jazz with many European cultural elements, mostly of Mediterranean origin. A delightful listening experience!

CD: Light In The World

Light in the World is my latest album, composed of 9 songs that I recorded in the Italian city of Forli, just like the previous album, Life on Earth.

The whole concept of my new Nocturnal Four band, which is a group with the line-up: guitars / saxophone / Hammond organ / drums, dates from my early youth, where records in that format were very influential in my growing up as a musician.

After many years of playing and recording in various combinations with my projects where no Hammond organ was represented, I often found that combination in my head. Finally, four years ago I had a tour with Renato Chicco on Hammond, and before that I was recording an album with Stefano Bedetti on saxophone, and realized that this was the perfect setting for my future project, which I called the trilogy. The question of who would be the drummer was very simple and the answer is: three of my all-time favorite drummers.

I started writing music for the project and wrote 30 compositions for the Nocturnal Four quartet in which Chicco, Bedetti and I would be permanent members and where each new part of the trilogy would feature a different drummer.

After the successful first album Life of Earth, recorded with the phenomenal Antonio Sanchez, one of the best of today’s drummers, the second album Light in the World has just been released with the legendary drummer John Riley, one of the best American drummers to list with playing would be too big to mention. What is also specific about Riley is that the is one of the greatest educators in the world.

I knew that I had three incredibly experienced musicians who were completely open to all forms of music. That was what I most appreciated from them, that they know how to listen and play what the music demands of them. Each of them has their own identity in sound and access to music. I had complete freedom to write because I work with such musicians.

To me as a composer and instrumentalist it is the same as when I listen to music at home on good speakers (read: no iPhone or computer because it’s an audio disaster for me). It’s essential for me to hear a musical story that has its authenticity, contrasts and originality.

All nine compositions are completely diverse and each has its own musical story that fits organically from one to another in all harmonic, rhythmic and linear segments, and what is heard and sought is unpredictability that gives us special creative energy and motivation for our common playing and creating.

The whole album is writte in overlapping motives that create a challenge to play and listen and a variety of forms where we wanted to avoid a pretentious and conventional approach, to open up possibilities and collective improvisations but always in the function of group dynamics.

I wanted to be a drummer as a kid but my parents were not keen on the idea, so I decided on a guitar. I was always fascinated with drummers and most of them are my favorite musicians, and when I play, I like that the drummer has the freedom to react with the band all the time in a straight line, and not just to keep the rhythm so that others can use their instruments for ego trips. The big drummers know what freedom is when you play with them. The whole musical gravity revolves around them with sound, grooves, dynamics and open horizons.

In the end when I was naming this album I didn’t know that we would be experiencing this social isolation with Corona, and the name is ideal during this time because I view the world in a positive way and see the light at the end of this momentary dark tunnel as Light in the World.

Ratko Zjaca

Vinylmine, Greece

All About Jazz (USA)

Four star review by Dan Bilawsky – October 2020

A band of the night embraces light. It’s an equipoise in interests that propels this outing to great depths and heights.

Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca, long a proponent for cross-cultural exchange in music, uses this dark yet illuminating platform to sow the seeds of accord with a band of brothers from different motherlands. He reunites with Italian saxophonist Stefano Bedetti and Slovenian organist Renato Chicco, who proved to be his perfect match(es) on Life on Earth (In and Out Record, 2018); and he brings American drumming icon John Riley into the fold, giving due respect to an undisputed great who drives this band in inimitable fashion.

The yin-and-yang duality of this music presents itself within the first minute of the title track, which serves as an ideal opener. Skulking lines set the scene and hint at dark dimensions, but a warm organ patina, along with bright, angular lines painted in tight unison, flip the script. It’s but the first of many examples of how these men channel the ideals of chiaroscuro in sound to paint indelible art.

The entire program—nine songs in all—showcases not only a simpatico relationship between these four parties, but also a serious sinuous streak in Zjaca’s writing. His originals bend and snake around in surprising fashion, but never at the expense of structure, flow and clarity. You never know where this band is going, but the destination always makes sense once it reveals itself.

Zjaca often uses iconic drummers as the wildcards in his bands—Antonio Sanchez occupied the throne on the previous Nocturnal Four date, and Adam Nussbaum, Al Foster and Steve Gadd each contributed deft stick work to different projects from this guitarist—and that strategy always seems to bear fruit. Riley, often lauded for his skills in big band settings and for serious bop chops, brings a forceful undercurrent to some of the music. Trashy hi-hat and crashing tides frequently serve as an impetus for creation early on, and when he hits his stride, he always rides a million dollar feel to fruition. Of course, Riley also remains one of the most tasteful talents around, as his impeccable work in mellower moments, like the entryways to the glimmering “River Spirit” and waltzing “Where To Stay,” point out.

There’s much to home in on during these performances—Zjaca’s slanted sensibilites, Chicco’s ability to fill the canvas without ever over-playing his hand(s), Bedetti’s open-throated strengths and autodidactic genius, Riley’s 360-degree grasp of a drummer’s role—but it’s the way these four interact with each other that turns out to be the album’s greatest gift. Whether trading solos, perfectly locking up prescribed passages or using their ears to guide voicings and movements, there’s always a fine balance at play. The results are riveting, so call this a serious score for Nocturnal Four.

HiFi Media – September 2020

Ratko Zjaca The Places You Will Go (Cantus, 2020)
Ratko Zjača Light In the World (In + Out Records, 2020)

With two new albums, Croatian guitarist, composer and music pedagogue Ratko Zjača, who continued to live in that country after his studies in the Netherlands, marked twenty-five years of his career. After fifteen published albums, this great jazz musician has finally released one in Croatia. The reason for the CD “The Places You Will Go” released by the record company Cantus is the “Miroslav Sedak Benčić” award of the Croatian Society of Composers for authorial creativity in the field of jazz music, which Zjača received last year. This was also the reason for his performance at the Jazz Autumn HDS festival in the “Blagoje Bersa” hall at the Music Academy in Zagreb. On that occasion, he presented himself with one of his ensembles, the ZZ Quartet, led by Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini, in which their collaborators are Macedonian-German double bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adanm Nussbaum. This line-up, performed by “Catch the Shadow”, is also featured on the aforementioned compilation album. Actually this is his second compilation album, but the content is completely different. The CD brings a selection of performances from Zjaca’s albums from all periods of his career, released for In + Out Records, Nishville Records and Laika Records. He recorded them with various ensembles in which he collaborated with famous jazz musicians such as Reggie Workman, Miroslav Vitous, John Patitucci, Al Foster, Steve Gadd, Adam Nussbaum, Antonio Sanchez, John Riley and others. Apart from boasting collaborations with these jazz dignitaries, Zjača can also be proud of the fact that everyone performed his compositions with enthusiasm. Some of his collaborators, such as Peter Erskine, Randy Brecker, Lenny White, John Abercrombie, Vernon Reid and Reggie Workman, have unequivocally made it known that they play with joy, and those statements were published in the album booklet. Most of the performances for this release were taken from the album he released for the German parent company In + Out Records, with which he has been under contract for years. Almost at the same time, he released the album “Light In the World” for that publisher, which he recorded with the band Nocturnal Four, in which he collaborated with organist Renato Chicco, saxophonist Stefan Bedetti and drummer John Riley. With them, in addition to the drummer being Antonio Sanchez, he recorded the previous CD “Life On Earth”. Although the sound of this ensemble, especially because of the organ, is reminiscent of the jazz period of the 1950s and 1960s, the approach is more modern, at times close to free jazz. And in this edition Zjača is presented as a composer, the author of all compositions. Namely, during the preparation of the project for the mentioned band, he wrote about thirty songs, of which he chose nine for the CD. Each brings a separate musical story, but they actually form a whole that forms “Light In the World”. – by Sjoerd van Aelst, 28 July 2020

Many foreign musicians use the Netherlands as a base. Perhaps our vibrant music scene with the many festivals is to blame. For example, Rotterdam houses the master guitarist Ratko Zjaca. Croatian Ratko may have completed his music studies at the Rotterdam Conservatoire, but it soon became clear that this talent was welcome in every jazz scene. Ratko understands the art of singing on his instrument. He has recorded his latest CD “Light In The World” with a classical organ / tenor composition. Renato Chicco is behind a wonderfully gargling B3 Hammond. Tenorist Stefano Bedetti and John Riley on drums complete the Nocturnal Four quartet.

Ratko Zjaca all plays his own pieces, all of which have something melodious. The tenor / guitar / Hammond parties are mostly unison and enhance the lyricism of the pieces. John Riley’s subtle and elegant drumming fits like a glove without clumping the sound image. A little bit of free jazz, followed by a heavy groove; the song “Trilogy evolution” provides some salt between the sweet. The bouncer “Just like it is” is a swinging hop-on jump, with which the modern dance audience knows what to do.

The CD “The Places You Will Go” contains in addition to two songs from the CD “Light In The World” a selection from the works of Ratko Zjaca. They are songs that have already appeared on several albums and cover the period from 2000 to the present. The CD shows not only the development of this fantastic guitarist, but also the versatility of his compositions. The pieces with accordionist Simone Zanchini from 2013 and 2015 have a southern European flair. Very different is the composition “Then and now”, which appeared on the album “Now & Then: A Portrait” (2011). It is a searching composition that meanders and eventually merges. Small but nice is the song “Cross-roads” from 2009 in trio. Already from the oldest song “Out of body” from 2000 you can hear the wonderful improvisational talent of Ratko Zjaca. As a newcomer to the New York jazz scene, he does not let the jazz cannon bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Al Foster knock him off the mat. With an overlap of only two songs, both CDs are highly recommended and even have them next to each other.

Muziekwereld (Netherlands)

5-star review and album of the week: Light In The World – on

Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca, you probably already know, is an elite jazzman who has developed from his home environment to the world level. We have written about him several times. Two years ago he released a major album with his international band Nocturnal Four. After two years, we saw the sequel with the replacement of drummer Antonio Sanchez for the equally experienced and excellent John Riley. As with the first album Life On Earth, so with the second album Light in the World, Ratko Zjaca is faithful to the jazz tradition and its legacy, on which he firmly builds his modern sound and compositional style. They have more properties in common with their predecessor, including the number of original compositions, of which there are again nine. At Nocturnal Four, it’s very clear to feel that crystallized sound and knows exactly how wants to sound. The compositions are based on traditional jazz forms, with great emphasis on the melodicity and strength of the themes. The protagonists have enough space for their own contribution and solos, while the whole recording session is a great well-being and view of the artists. The surprise was the song Trilogy Evolution, where Ratko Zjaca and his band tried to experiment a bit with the sound, so here we hear a free free jazz introduction with elements of electronics. However, it unexpectedly develops into a sound-interesting eclectic composition with elements of a rock guitar and a regular rhythmic pulse, which passes into the energetically swinging up tempo of the bop. The overall sound of this composition is very unique, it is a sound collage of several styles, which are a reflection of the creativity of Ratko Zjaca and at the same time document the development of the group. However, we will also find a number of other interesting compositions on the album, where you will remember beautiful melodies and virtuoso improvisations, such as the title track Light in the World, Heart of Season or Just Like It Is. Light in the World is a really colorful album, worthy of attention. It is an album based on pure jazz with an excellent interplay of protagonists who can surprise you and draw you into the music with a number of interesting contrasts and a unique musical language.

The light and serenity of Ratko Zjaca: The Places You Will Go and Light In The World on #neuguitars #blog


About one year ago I wrote a review for the record of a skilled jazz guitarist, Ratko Zjaca. The album was titled “Life on Earth” and offered elegant and clean jazz, with a first-rate arrangement and production work. I wrote: “The Nocturnal Four do a perfect job, smooth and with an almost aerodynamic, pulsating and precise sound”. Well. Ratko Zjaca is back with two records: the first, always with the Nocturnal Four (Ratko Zjaca guitar, Renato Chicco Hammond C3 organ, Stefano Bedetti tenox saxophone and John Riley, drums) is titled “Light In The World”, the second one is a collection where there are songs from different albums and in which our guitarist is accompanied by the Nocturnal Four and other well-established stars such as John Patitucci, Antonio Sanchez, Miroslav Vitous, Adam Nussbaum, just to name a few.

The two records are very similar and show a common uniformity of language and style, Zjaca is a guitarist with an impeccable, confident and smooth style that are not so easy to find in these days. There is a really intense study and development work in his notes, where the quote is so extensive that it in turn becomes an element of style. Behind Zjaca you can see the blurred images, the soundprints of all the giants of the jazz guitar and his music shows a colorful, controlled and serene tension.

Zjaca’s music does not express a radical tendency towards experimentation or the avant-garde, but is more a research work on phrasing and tone. It expresses a serenity that fascinates, involves and comforts. It is a good thing that these two records came out in this particular historical moment, where our emotions were upset, this music, apparently almost light and subtle, gives us oxygen and calms the mind. It does not express disengagement but, at the same time, it is also light years away from the celebrity and intellectual coldness that are the characteristics and also the original sin that distinguishes contemporary music.

It’s music that I could also define as firmly rooted in a tradition that was mainstream about twenty years ago, when style, arrangements, production and virtuosity were among the characteristics that were most often asked for the musicians. It also takes a lot of courage to release two albums, in the CD version, in these times of profound social and economic uncertainty, just for wanting to realize them anyway, they instill a sense of security and certainty, like saying that you go further, that you continue, that music always goes on. This shows the presence of an honest, correct and sincere modus operandi. No controversy. No complaints. No fall of style.

Italian version – La luce e la serenità di Ratko Zjaca: The Places You Will Go e Light In The World su Neuguitars #blog

Double Time: Two Tasty New CDs from Ratko Zjaca (by Debbie Burke)

Two new works by guitarist Ratko Zjaca (interviewed earlier here) are almost too much of a treat at once. Not only is his instrumentation firmly in that perfect Goldilocks zone; his melodic lines are uncluttered, tempos tight but unobtrusive, and the phrasing flows like a river. Read more

After the success of the album “Life on Earth” released last year with Antonio Sanchez, Ratko recorded a new album in Italy, “Light in the World” with 9 new original compositions, with Stefano Bedetti, Renato Chicco and this time featuring on drums the great John Riley.

The collaboration between four outstanding artists forms a peerless combination of sax, guitar, organ and drums. The result is stunning in terms of sound and arrangement experimented with rhythmic ideas, texture and space impressed by the artists’ enthusiasm, passion, intensity and warmth. An inspiring, enjoyable, powerhouse of original compositions.

Jazz Thing


“Mein Wunsch ist es, dass wir mit dieser Musik etwas mehr Licht in den Tunnel schicken können, in dem wir durch Corona, die Politik und andere gesellschaftliche Verwerfungen getrieben wurden”, sagt der kroatische Ausnahmegitarrist Ratko Zjaca über sein neues Album “Light In The World”.

Hört euch die unverwechselbare Tonsprache Zjacas an, die in seinen neuen Kompositionen bestimmt durch die Impulse des Schlagzeugers zum Tragen kommt.

Improvisations-Kultur des Jazz in schillernden Facetten – für Freunde rasanter Fusion-Mucke.

Jazz critic, writer, researcher Adam Baruch

This is an album by Croatian guitarist / composer Ratko Zjaca and his Nocturnal Four quartet, which also features Italian saxophonist Stefano Bedetti, Slovenian organist Renato Chicco and American drummer John Riley. The album presents nine original compositions, all by Zjaca.

The music is melodic mainstream Jazz with a touch of Fusion, very relaxed, laid back and ideal for showcasing the guitar playing abilities of the leader. Bedetti and Chicco add occasional solo parts as well and Riley offers the rhythmic backbone, staying mostly modestly in the background but doing his job perfectly.

The compositions are all well structured and interesting, providing the musicians with ample opportunity to show their chops. The arrangements carefully utilize the quartet’s instrumental range, creating a coherent continuity for the entire duration of the album.

The guitar / organ collaboration creates a unique and distinctly retro sound, which is very effective and enjoyable and brings fond memories of similar lineups active in the hay days of American Jazz in the 1960s.

Overall the album is a feast for guitar oriented mainstream Jazz lovers, which offers highly professional performances, solid compositions and nice atmosphere. This music is accessible to a wide range of Jazz fans and as such should find many supportive listeners among Jazz connoisseurs of all ages. Warmly recommended!

Aldemedianoche Argentina

Los dos últimos: el guitarrista croata Ratko Zjaca al frente de uno de sus tres proyectos, Nocturnal Four desde Light In The World (In+Out Records | Mayo 15, 2020) un disco fenomenal del celebrado guitarrista. Cerramos con un single de promo (no era que yo había dicho que no pasaba más un sencillo de promo?, lo que pasa es que la publicacion completaes para dentro de varias semanas…!!) del cuarteto

CD: The places you will go

5-star review “The Places You Will Go” on

During his many years of musical career, a jazz man will meet with different artists in different places, and this will create interesting collaborations that transcend national borders and connect different musical personalities and ways of thinking. Over time, as you create your own style, sound projects and new collaborations with important artists are added. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to look back and realize what the artist went through and what he did. This is exactly the latest, cross-sectional album by the excellent Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca – The Places You Will Go, which will take you to places from his past. It is a compilation of his most interesting collaborations and compositions. On the album we can find names like John Patitucci, Miroslav Vitous, Reggie Workman, Antonio Sanchez, Al Foster and many others. Eleven compositions and over an hour of reworked work really offer an excellent cross-section of the compositional art of Ratko Zjaca. They are excellent compositions that map out how his compositional style and sound adapt and combine into a harmonious whole in various groups. Above all, it can be heard that Ratko Zjaca has always been able to create his sound in order to get the most out of the group, while its strong connection to the jazz tradition and mainstream is evident. The compositions are stylistically very different, which also stems from the fact that each song has a different composition and comes from a different context, but they have one thing in common. Each song carries a very strong melodic handwriting by Ratko Zjaca, which can always captivate the listener. There is not a single composition that will bored you on this album!

Read the full review here.

They play:
Ratko Zjaca – electric and acoustic guitar, electronics
Stefano Bedetti – tenor and soprano saxophone
Stan Mitrovic – tenor saxophone
Bart Platteau – flute
Renato Chicco – Hammond C3 organ
Simone Zanchini – accordion
Miroslav Vitous – double bass
John Patitucci – double bass
Directed by Workman – double bass
Martin Gjakonovski – double bass
Steve Gadd – drums
Adam Nussbaum – drums
John Riley – drums
Antoni Sanchez – drums
Ben Schroder – drums
Al Foster – drums

CD: Life On Earth

Press Release – In + Out Records

If you compared Ratko Zjaca with a share of stock, the stock chart would clearly have to show a trend upward. Appearing as an insider’s tip and known if all by aficionados, the exceptional Croatian guitarist has continuously worked his way up from year to year and from CD to CD. Each disc – most recently‚ “Beyond The Lines” (IOR CD 77117), “Now And Then” (IOR CD 77110-2), “The Way We Talk” with Simone Zanchini (IOR CD 77104-2) and “Continental Talk” (IOR CD 77097-2) – has revealed a significant increase in maturity, perfection and serenity. Stock market-affine contemporaries are certainly going to be very pleased about the enormous growth rates, inexhaustible inventiveness, sustainability and substance of this musical security. If there were a genuine, surefire investment option with guaranteed appreciation for real lovers of jazz, it would have to bear the name Ratko Zjaca.

Alone the list of prominent co-musicians working side by side with him says a lot about the creative potential of the sympathetic string magician. John Patitucci, Randy Brecker, Steve Gadd, Adam Nussbaum, Miroslav Vitous, Reggie Workman, Al Foster, Ron Carter, Benny Bailey, Gary Peacock, Jimmy Cobb and Alvin Queen helped him over the years to learn how to listen to others, but also to sharpen his own sense of what is feasible. It seems to be a logical consequence that Grammy and Oscar winner Antonio Sanchez with his exceptional skills on the drums plays along with him on his latest album “Life On Earth”. He and Stefano Bedetti (tenor/soprano saxophone) and Renato Chicco (Hammond organ) open a new chapter in Ratko Zjaca’s travel diary, which is quite considerable in the meanwhile, and whose dream has long been a global jazz language free of national borders, ideologies and styles. “Without ever having consciously planned it, my bands have always been a mixture of musicians from all countries. It was no different this time either. Antonio comes from New York City, Stefano from Italy, Renato from Austria and I come from Croatia, although I have lived in the Netherlands for some time now. I find such constellations extremely interesting and invigorating.”

The fact that the session of “Life On Earth” was then also held in Italian Forli near Cesena rounds out the cosmopolitan touch. However, “Life on Earth” is far from a random project because of that. When Ratko Zjaca, Stefano Bedetti and Renato Chicco met each other for the first time in 2016, all three quickly sensed a deep internal connection. “It quickly became clear for me that these might be just the musicians, with whom I wanted to record at least my next album and take my next tour. You sense something like that very quickly. When I then asked Antonio, one of my all-time favorite drummers, if he would join us, my dream cast was perfect!”

However, the reputation of Ratko Zjaca would not have experienced such a rapid growth if the guitarist simply adapted to his respective environments like a chameleon as well as hid behind his prominent co-musicians subserviently and inconspicuously. In the case of Antonio Sanchez, the drummer of the Pat Metheny Group, Zjaca was even suspected of only wanting to give a veritable European blueprint of the superstar. Far from it! Whoever has followed the development of the band leader and his enormous potential, which is continually becoming increasingly clear, will find a very individual, unmistakable musical language between European influences and American improvisation culture as well as between small, shimmering acoustic flashes and severe storm surges. If Ratko Zjaca were a share of stock, there would only one tip: buy!

Review by Neuguitars (Italy)

The Nocturnal Four perform a perfect, polished and almost aerodynamic, pulsating and precise work. Ratko Zjaca’s guitar moves sinuously and safely in a music characterized by a velvety and twilight nature. The Nocturnal Four propose an elegant and sophisticated jazz, far from both Winton Marsalis and free jazz ideas.

See the interview with Ratko on

Review – skJazz Magazine

Croatian jazz guitarist Ratko Zjaca did not have a simple career path, but he gradually worked hard with each album and moved further. He gradually developed into an elite domestic jazz musician and began working with men such as John Patitucci, Steve Gadd, Al Foster, and Reggie Workman. Last year, he was touring with Italian saxophonist Stefano Bedetti and Austrian organist Renato Chicco. After him, he realized that there was an extraordinary chemistry between them, and these are the musicians he wants to play with. Antonio Sanchez is one of the most popular drummers said Ratko Zjaca and will be perfect combination with him and other musicians. He takes this extraordinary opportunity and leads to an album with his nine compositions that reflect his shift in the role of composer, musician and leader. Every single aspect of the album has reached the perfection of musicians and, of course, Ratko Zjaca has contributed a great deal. His modern compositional, jazz manuscript gave a face and a unique sound to this album. More than an hour of listener music translates through various styles in eclectic modern temperament. However, there is no other electronic fusion. The main building pillar is the foundation of jazz tradition, modern mainstream, blues, be bop. All of this combined with melodic inventiveness, minimalist forms that give a lot of space for improvisation, created a very exceptional modern jazz album. It was the excellent, virtuous and pretentious contribution of the protagonists only developed and highlighted Zjaca’s compositional intentions and the lyrical character of the album. Do not miss this exceptional album of contemporary jazz, called Life on Earth, which combines everything from its history to the present.

Review – All About Jazz

By Dan Bilawski

What’s in a band name? Sometimes, absolutely nothing; but in this case, a world of truth. Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca’s Nocturnal Four infuses his music with vespertine vibes and shrouds it in shadows, living up to its name while carving out its own identity on an absorbing program calling to the moonlight.

After forging a bandstand brotherhood through touring with saxophonist Stefano Bedetti and organist Renato Chicco, it was clear to Zjaca that they needed to be part of this project. And to fill out the quartet, he called on one of the his favorite drummers and one of the jazz world’s premier musicians: the one and only Antonio Sanchez. Together these four make and snake their way through starry scenes and dangerous scenarios, coming out completely unified and entirely unscathed at the other end.


CD: Beyond The Lines

By George W. Harris

Here’s a combo worth your attention. Ratko Zjaca plays guitar and Simone Zanchini hits the buttons on the accordion and electronics. Supplemented by Martin Gjakonovski/b and Adam Nussbaum, the mix Cajun, Zydeco, Tango and Bohemian blues in a way that grabs you by the throat. Deep south sound come out on the sinister “Celtico” while slinky blues hit you in your soul on “River Spirit” and “Days of Old”. They can bop with the best as well, showing some hot grooves on “The Judge Says You are Innocent” and “The Lost Call” while taking you to The Left Bank on “bale Con La Uno”. Funk is the name on “The Clockwork” which features wondrous guitar work and Zanchini hits all the right buttons on “The Easy Whistler”. The only label for this one is “Oh, Yeah!”.

Midwest Records, May 2014, USA

The Euro jazzbos return for their third set under this name and bring a Euro chip on their shoulders as well. They don’t want to go forward just being thought of a jazz in the American sense — they want to be seen as musical adventurers that add stuff from everywhere. Mash up is the future, huh? You can hear jazz, tango, Django and more — all of it right on sounds. Loose the chip on your shoulder. Forget about marketing, focus on the music. That’s what you do best. Rhetoric aside, this is a delightful wild ride from cats that want to admirably push the limits and they are at their most hypnotic when their vision of fusion is to fuse the past with the future. Not really malcontent jazz, this is a nu sort of world fusion that has some really cool things going. Well worth checking out if you appreciate softer jazz/rock that has some real edges. This could easily become one of your left field faves.

All About Jazz, January 2014, USA

By Dan Bilawski

ZZ Quartet: Beyond the Lines Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini hit artistic pay dirt when they teamed up for The Way We Talk (In + Out Records, 2010). They joined forces with Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum for that album, creating a cross-cultural blend of music that speaks to specific musical idiosyncracies and universal truths in sound. Now, a few years after that initial encounter-on-record, this outfit returns with a follow-up that’s just as pleasing and unique as its debut.

On Beyond The Lines, this foursome delivers music that’s alternately breezy, brainy, brash or bold. They create beautiful aural tapestries (“Bale Con La Uno” and “Days Of Old”), use simple, evolving riffs and overlapping ostinatos as a leaping off point for something greater (“The Clockwork”), and delight in delivering a zany, left-of-center hoedown (“Celtico”). Understatement also has its place in the program (“River Spirit”), as does full-steam-ahead interplay (“The Judge Says You Are Innocent”) and tuneful cheeriness (“The Easy Whistler”). These men truly manage to cover a lot of ground as they move beyond the lines and wherever else they please.

Some of these pieces use textural elements as structural cornerstones while others tend to be built on and around rhythmic foundations, but all of the music speaks to the creative spirit of its makers. Zanchini seems to have the greatest range of all the men at play, serving as instigator one minute and creating sonic sedatives the next, but Zjaca is the solo voice of note. His solo spots simultaneously display deep thought and highlight an off-the-cuff creative streak that’s ever-visible. Nussbaum and Gjakonovski prove to be an organic pair that’s willing and able to do whatever the music demands, be it moving forward, receding into the shadows, or playing things straight.

In ZZ Quartet, differences and likenesses both prove to be assets. These four men wear their individuality and togetherness like a badge of honor on Beyond The Lines.

Jazzthetik, January 2014, Germany
Muziekwereld, NL
By MARK CORROTO, December 2013

The answer to the question: what does one do with an accordion?, is not beat it with a club until it is silenced. At least that is not the case when the accordion is utilized in the context of a jazz quartet like this ZZ Quartet. The ‘Z’ stands for Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini. Their quartet is rounded out by the Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum. Beyond the Lines follows The Way We Talk (In And Out Records, 2010) and, while eschewing the traditional (or avant) aspects of the accordion, makes some innovative and what is more important, some swinging jazz.

Their music is difficult to pigeonhole. They draw from modern jazz, Italian film, and folk music as influences. The disc opens with the weighty bass line of “Voglio Una Donna” that unwraps into a complex and destabilizing sound. The band can hit hard and switch gears instantly (“Freak in Freak Out”), deliver a whistling pop song (“The Easy Whistler”) with actual whistling, and negotiate the coolness of a lush blues (“River Spirit”) all by meshing the ying/yang of Zjaca’s guitar and Zanchini’s accordion. The music is engaging and instantly agreeable.

In + Out Records

Purists may relax: The ZZ Quartet has hardly anything to do with the Texan Blues rock band ZZ Top. Instead, the band‘s forceful initials originate from the surnames of the initiators Ratko Zjaca (guitar) and Simone Zanchini (accordion). After the sensational 2010 début album The Way We Talk (In + Out Records) they have returned to the studio once again, together with Martin Gjakonovski (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums), to write another chapter in the history of cross-border jazz. But – jazz?

“By now, this term in its classic American meaning is no longer sufficient,” muses Simone Zanchini. “What we do clearly has European roots, many classical influences, folklore, avant-garde, improvisation, sometimes fusion too. You‘ll only find something akin to swing in one piece at the most, but yet a distinct rhythm pervades the entire album”. And Ratko Zjaca believes he discerns an element of rock and pop music in the ZZ Quartet‘s compact, self-contained, highly exciting sound, which sometimes goes against the grain.

“We function as a band first and foremost; we have got to know and appreciate each other these last four years. It may be customary in jazz to play with new people again and again, to take on the unexpected, to act out one‘s individuality. We, on the other hand, draw predominantly on our mutual trust. Not for nothing were legendary bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Weather Report able to develop their concept continuously over a long period of time”.

A small hint of ZZ Top after all, then, albeit in the philosophical sense. “We never wanted to make an album that was just purely jazz,” says Ratko Zjaca, explaining the motive of the ZZ Quartet which, on The Way We Talk still bears his name in classic jazz fashion. “The preferences and the musical socializations of the four of us are too different for that. None of us wants to be confined or enslaved to a particular style any more”. Zjaca, the guitarist, is from Croatia but has made the Netherlands his home for more than 20 years. Zanchini, the accordion player, is from Italy, Martin Gjakonovski, the bass player, is from Macedonia, but has been living in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne, for 23 years. And Adam Nussbaum, the authority on drums, is from New York. An international task force of esthetic possibilities is searching for the truth beyond the generally accepted lines of demarcation. Beyond The Lines. Which lines? “In effect this is about every line,” says Ratko. “Everything we hear goes into what we do. The passion for film music as well as the secret love of rock, the admiration of classical music, the longing for folk and, of course, the burning desire for jazz and its possibilities for improvisation.”

Hence, they play no standards. Nine of the eleven tracks, which all have it in them to become new standards, were penned by Ratko Zjaca and Simone Zanchini and one each by Adam Nussbaum and his daughter Maja (“Days Of Old”) and by Martin Gjakonovski (“The South Song”). A different concept, a foreign path, which nevertheless leads into familiar areas. The change is most clearly noticeable in “The Clockwork” by Zanchini. “We have developed further”, the accordion wizard emphasizes. “This begins with our compositions and becomes most obvious when we play together. We move much further away from guidelines than we used to and have become more mature, more grown-up. Everything is balanced, even if Ratko and I have written most of the tracks”

ZZ are both from the same corner of Europe, but could not be much greater opposites as far as their nature is concerned. Together with the two other guys and their respective backgrounds, this adds up to an unbelievable mixture, a wonderfully tasty cake, for which the recipe and especially the chemistry are really good. For example, Adam Nussbaum, who in his long life as a drummer has already set the beat for John Abercrombie, Paul Bley, Michael Brecker, Tom Harrell, Lee Konitz, David Liebman, John Scofield, and also the Allman Brothers Band and Jaco Pastorius, calls the ZZ Quartet “one of the craziest bands I have played with in the last 30 years”. Still in doubt? Just give it a go and leave your (listening) habits behind.

By DAN MCCLENAGHAN, Published: August 4, 2013

The group is called the ZZ Quartet, and no, it is not an expansion of the famed blues rock trio from Texas, ZZ Top. Beyond the Lines is the brainchild of the leaders – the Zs of the ZZ Quartet – accordion master Simone Zanchini and guitarist Ratko Zjaca. And their music isn’t rock, though elements of the genre surface, in Zjaca’s oft-imes snappy guitar licks, or when Zanchini addresses the “ah-look-at-all-the-lonely-people” bit of The Beatles’ melody on the tranquil “River Spirit.”

Anytime time an accordion sits up front the tag “folk music” comes to mind, but as the disc’s title suggests, this music pushes out beyond the lines of labels, with spirited improvisations riding hard driving rhythms (“Freak in Freak Out”), modernistic stealth grooves (“The Clockwork”), a graceful and gorgeous romantic slow dance (“Bale Con La Uno”), and a playful romp (“The Judge Says You Are Innocent”).

The quartet’s sound draws its influences from its international cast: Guitarist Zjaca hails from Croatia; accordionist Zanchini is from Italy; drummer Adam Nussbaum brings a New York state of mind to the music; and bassist Martin Gjakonovski is from Macedonia. Given that make-up, a European tinge is evident. Ten of the set’s eleven tunes are penned by either Zjaca or Zanchini – “The Lost Call” was written by Zjaca, while a swaying, lighthearted “The Easy Listener” comes from Zanchini’s fertile imagination.

Beyond the Lines, by the ZZ Quartet, defies categorization on this very engaging outing.

CD: Now and Then

Guitarist (UK), May 2012
Hi Fi News (UK), April 2012
Propermusic (UK), December 2011

Brilliant guitarist Ratko Zjaca’s ‘Now & Then’ features him in some very distinguished company including Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous, John Patitucci, Reggie Workman, Steve Gadd, Al Foster, Adam Nussbaum and others. Intended as a profile of his work, the album includes released and unreleased material by Zjaca and features him in duo, trio, quartet and quintet contexts, ultimately winning the recognition of famous colleagues such as those on this very fine CD.

Jazz Thing (Germany), December 2011

Die Kollaboration mit dem Akkordeonisten Simone Zanchini etwa oder die Sessions mit Reggie Workman und Al Foster, John Patitucci, Steve Gadd sowie Miroslav Vitous (auf einem von zwei unveröffentlichten Tracks). Als Compilation jedoch zeigen die Titel erstmals auf, wie sehr Ratko von dem Wunsch beseelt ist, den Jazz klassischer Prägung mit seinen europäischen Wurzeln zu verbinden, Stile und Menschen zusammenzubringen. Eine gute Gelegenheit für Quereinsteiger, einen wirklich interessanten Gitarristen zu entdecken.

Muziekwereld (Netherlands), December 2011

Op deze nieuwe plaat van gitarist/componist Ratko Zjaca horen we buitenaardse riffs in improvisatiebattles tussen gitaar en accordeon die tot bizarre resultaten leiden. Ook het gebruik van een fretloze elektrische gitaar is zeer bijzonder. Door het ontbreken van de frets is het geluid veel zachter van toon en kunnen de mooi gecomponeerde oriëntaalse melodieën juist geïntoneerd worden. Dit is niet alleen vanwege de vele topmuzikanten die meedoen een bijzonder album maar ook vanwege de avontuurlijke en gevarieerde composities.

Gitarre & Bass (Germany), December 2011

Der kroatische Jazz-Gitarrist mit einer Compilation, die nicht nur zehn beeindruckene Tracks aus zehn Jahren nebeneinander stellt, sondern auch mit Unterstützung einiger ganz großer Viersaiter & Drummer entstanden ist: Reggie Workman/Al Foster, John Patitucci/Steve Gadd, Martin Gjakonovski/Adam Nussbaum und Miroslav Vitous/Ben Schröder heißen hier die Rhythm-Sections. Treibender, straigh swingender Jazz mit sehr schöner Handschuhton-Gitarre.

All About Jazz, October 2011

By Dan Bilawski

Boiling a decade’s worth of work down to one CD must be a frustrating yet gratifying process. Frustration likely surrounds the idea of reducing ten years of blood, sweat, composing and performing into a single package, but the recorded evidence of one’s artistic growth and reach is the ultimate reward. Such is the case with the music on Now & Then: A Portrait, which serves as a survey of Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca’s output from 2000 to 2011.

In selecting a pair of pieces from four different albums released within this span of time, and sweetening the deal with two previously unreleased tracks, Zjaca manages to present a multifaceted musical portrait of an artist in his prime. Three of the albums—A Day In Manhattan (Laika, 2000), Crossing The Border (Nishville, 2007) and Continental Talk (IN+OUT, 2009)—are loaded with America all-stars, with musicians like drummers Steve Gadd and Al Foster, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and bassist John Patitucci bringing their best to the sessions, while The Way We Talk (IN+OUT, 2011) showcases an ethnically diverse group of artists; but all of the music revolves around Zjaca’s intriguing guitar work and compositions.

Zjaca deals in aural oddities on “Kandinisky Night,” waltzes along with Foster and bassist Reggie Workman on “Out Of Body,” and crosses cultural lines as he brings quirky and angular European sensibilities to boogaloo music on “The Gate,” but those are only three chapters in this compelling musical biography. The connection between Zjaca and Stan Mitrovic is highlighted on two duo numbers—the electronics and effects-enhanced “Katarina” and beautifully serene “Great Ocean Road”—and continues on full band tracks like the urgent “Welcome To Our Jungle,” which showcases both musicians’ solo skills. Zjaca even manages to create music, with some help from accordionist Simone Zanchini, that sounds like a serene, non-Argentine answer to Al Di Meola’s World Sinfonia, with bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi.

While the two previously unreleased tracks may by a dangling carrot for Zjaca fans that already own the rest of this music, the entire package is an appetizing musical meal ready to be consumed by those unfamiliar with his work.

Inakustik, Germany, September 2011

Sometimes he likes to call his music “Fellini Jazz“. He brings Mediterranean flair to the epicentre of American jazz. He explores classical music and influences from India and the Far East and combines “folklore imaginaire“ with free forms of expression. Ratko Zjaca is a bridge-builder par excellence who keeps on delving his pillars into new waters. IN+OUT Records releases a portrait of this exceptional Croatian guitarist which presents the different facets of his career, with ten pieces of music spanning ten years and featuring him in a variety of line-ups. Zjaca studied in Zagreb, then plunged into modern idioms at Rotterdam Conservatory and at the New York University School of Music. He started to attend master classes given by the likes of Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Bob Brookmeyer, Joe Pass and Jim Hall. The last two in particular left their mark on his playing which has always been orientated towards the USA. Among the first musicians to appreciate his remarkable string wizardry were bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Al Foster. Ratko teamed up with these two in New York in 2000 for an intimate and intense trio experience, captured on the album “A Day In Manhattan“. You can listen to this early experimental period in two outtakes: “Out Of Body“ starts with a sleep-walking, elegant dance on the strings whereas “Why We Are Here“ heats up with inspiring modern jazz phrases, including some short solo work by Zjaca’s partners.

Six years later the Croatian can be found playing with a quartet. Joining Zjaca and Al Foster is one of Ratko’s east coast heroes, bassist John Patitucci, and a lyrical counterpoint, saxophonist Stan Mitrovic. “A most enjoyable listening experience“ – that’s how John Abercrombie described Ratko’s  album, “Crossing The Border“, and he was certainly not the only enthusiast. Two tracks from this album –“Welcome To The Jungle“ and “Great Ocean Road“ – amaze the listener in totally different ways, one with a dense, aesthetic combination of modern idioms, and the other with ballad-like, almost folksy and dreamy duo between the Zjaca and Mitrovic. In a similar line-up Zjaca presented himself on his IN+OUT début album, “Continental Talk“, with Randy Brecker – another of Zjaca’s prominent heroes – and Steve Gadd replacing Foster. The recordings, made in 2008 and represented here by “The New Life“ and “The Gate“, show an increasingly inspired Zjaca producing a melodious flow and even using a little Latin flair in the arrangements. ”This is my dream team”, Zjaca said about the quintet, which he felt created an “organic symbiosis” during the sessions.

Eventually, in 2010, Zjaca returned to Europe. On “The Way We Talk“, which came into being at the Klangstudio Leyh in Mannheim, we hear Ratko Zjaca side by side with his new studio and stage partner, Simone Zanchini, probably the most daring accordionist that Italy has produced. Completing the band is Macedonian bass player Martin Gjakonovski, and – to cast the anchor in the New World – drummer Adam Nussbaum joins. The musical language is, at the same time, more Mediterranean, thanks to Zanchini’s effective escapades – and more experimental, bearing witness to stylistic boundary-crossing. This can be heard in the nervous and somewhat eccentric “Kandinsky Night“, and also in the cantable, melancholy “A Friend For Life“. This release is full of cinematic character, full of “Fellini-esque traits indeed.

Last but not least, “Now And Then“ offers two previously unreleased tracks: In “Katarina“ you will hear a Rotterdam snapshot of 2003, in which Zjaca and Mitrovic mix minimalistic loop philosophy and vocal lines from the Balkans via multi-tracking.

And in the epic “Then And Now“ you will get an impression of the quality of Zjaca’s live playing. On this 11-minute track, he is accompanied by Miroslav Vitous (b), Bart Platteau (fl) and Ben Schröder (dr), and he combines a lyrical, impressionistic tableau with complex rhythmic patterns.

“Now And Then“ presents a thrilling overview of the sound aesthetics created by this extraordinary Croatian string wizard.

CD: The Way We Talk

Jazzpodium (German), June 2011
Gitarre und Bass (German), March 2011
Muziekwereld (Dutch), March 2011
By Nicholas F. Mondello, USA, February 2011

Jazz musicians are, in essence and practice, explorers and high-wire artists. The finest improvising players use their instruments to mine the dimensions of sound, rhythm and emotional perception, doing so without a safety net. Like its keyboard cousin the piano, the accordion as an instrument that challenges its players to explore the technical and harmonic universes out there. Unlike the piano, however, the accordion has only recently crossed cultural barriers into jazz and into more abstract playing.

The Way We Talk, a collaborative effort of Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini, is an interesting exploration of sound, textures and rhythm. With bassist Martin Gjakonovski and drummer Adam Nussbaum in the crew, the quartet serves up a fine array of original selections. There’s intelligence, humor, emotion, and a very playful sense to the selections and solos.

From the exciting Morse code pulses of “Pippo,” (perhaps a nod to fine accordionist Angelo DiPippo?) and on to the exquisitely smooth triple-feeling “Twilight Time Again,” Zanchini, Zjaca and Gjakonovski skip, slide and slither so nicely that the music and the improvisations predominate, and the instrumentation melds into melody. With Nussbaum’s magnificent rhythmic and textural support, this is music of interest, fine improvisations and joy. There’s a flavor of smoother rather than straight-ahead jazz, but, the variations in theme and textures along the way maintain and develop interest.

The quirky “Kandinsky Night,” a selection dedicated to Weather Report co-founder/bassist Miroslav Vitous, flips and skirts melodic and rhythmic fragments. Nussbaum’s initial[ly subtle but subsequently fierce drive mirrors and channels both Weather Report ‘s “Birdland” and the group’s more abstract work. A more thoughtful “One Mind Temple” further displays Zanchini and Gjakonov’s fine musicianship.

“Frida Is Vanished” is a nostalgic Euro-ballad, Zanchini theatrically meandering across majors and minors with a timbre reminiscent of harmonica great Toots Thielemans. The pipes, cries and bellowing of “Morgagni Est” have Zanchini sounding calliope-like, before moving into a funky arabesque melody, while “La Stanza di Arturo” scoots along at greyhound pace, with accordion and guitar bopping.

“The Forest of Love” features Zjaca’s beautiful acoustic guitar in a romantic display of shades. “Adam and Eva” strolls along happily, and “Friend for Life” joins accordion and guitar in a stroll across a musical memory lane. “Out of Body” perks along in a lilting jazz waltz feel.

The Way We Talk is a fine performance by talented and extremely well-versed players. The accordion sounds that Zanchini produces are a far cry from the polka-instrument rap accordionists might encounter.

All About Jazz (Italian), February 2011

di Fabio Strada

The Way We Talk – “Il nostro modo di parlare” – è l’emblematico titolo del CD d’esordio di questo quartetto che fa della molteplicità di radici, geografiche e musicali, la propria peculiarità e ricchezza. Capitanato dal chitarrista Ratko Zjaca, croato stanziato a Rotterdam, e dal fisarmonicista Simone Zanchini, il quartetto è completato alla ritmica dalla batteria del newyorkese Adam Nussbaum e dal contrabbasso di Martin Gjakonovski, macedone trasferitosi in Germania.

Le disparate provenienze geografiche dei quattro fanno da pendant all’ampiezza del loro background musicale: Ratko Zjaca, oltre alla chitarra jazz, ha fatto studi di musica classica indiana; Zanchini è diplomato in fisarmonica classica (strumento del quale è uno dei principali interpreti a livello internazionale), fa parte dell’Ensemble strumentale scaligero ed è attivo in una molteplicità di contesti, dal jazz all’improvvisazione radicale, dalla sperimentazione elettronica alla musica colta e al tango.

Ma il jazz è indiscutibilmente il linguaggio comune e l’amore che lega fra loro i quattro musicisti coi loro disparati percorsi. Al di là dello status di vera e propria icona del jazz moderno di Nussbaum, che ha suonato con gli eroi del genere, da Sonny Rollins a Stan Getz ad Art Pepper, tutti e quattro vantano un curriculum jazz di prim’ordine. Non sorprende quindi che nonostante la sua recente costituzione il quartetto abbia subito raggiunto un alto livello di affiatamento e un suono compatto e omogeneo.

Ma ciò che più colpisce nel suono di questo disco è il feeling e il calore che emana dalle sue tracce: i temi (tutti di Zjaca e Zanchini) sono elaborati, eleganti e, pur nella loro varietà, possiedono uno squisito gusto melodico. I solisti (ruolo ad appannaggio soprattutto dei due leader, ma non mancano interventi di Gjakonovski e Nussbaum) sono sempre focalizzati e ispirati; tanto Zjaca quanto Zanchini possiedono un fraseggio caldo, ricco e fluente. La ritmica procede fluida e senza inciampi con uno swing contagioso.

Le direzioni percorse nei diversi brani sono molteplici e si spingono fino ai territori della libera improvvisazione collettiva (“Morgagni Est,” “Kandinsky Night”), ma il suono di gruppo decolla soprattutto nei brani più swinganti e groovy, dove il feeling diventa davvero contagioso e irresistibile.

Un altro piatto forte sono le ballad (“Frida Is Vanished,” “A Friend for Life”), ispirate e cariche di feeling, in cui la fisarmonica di Zanchini mescola in una sintesi perfetta il linguaggio jazzistico con gli echi piazzolliani; fino ad arrivare al duo di “The Forest of Love,” con sola chitarra acustica e fisarmonica, una vera gemma d’ispirazione, bellezza e pathos.

Le composizioni di Zjaca (“Twilight Time Again,” “Out of Body,” “A Friend for Life”) hanno soprattutto nella ricchezza melodica e nel calore del feeling i loro maggiori punti di forza. Il suono della chitarra è caldo e classico, ispirato chiaramente alla lezione dei maestri (da Jim Hall a Wes Montgomery fino a John Scofield); il fraseggio è raffinato e maturo e gli interventi solistici non perdono mai di vista il faro della bellezza e della pertinenza con lo spirito del tema.

I brani di Zanchini, pur mantenendo sempre un nucleo di ispirazione e gusto melodico (“Frida Is Vanished”), virano di più verso l’esuberanza gioiosa (“Pippo,” “Adam And Eva”) o deviano verso traiettorie più oblique e spigolose (“La stanza di Arturo”).

Anche come solista Zanchini ama “sporcare” la sua forte e calda vena melodica con intemperanze e repentine deviazioni e perturbazioni (“A Friend for Life”), ritagliandosi nell’intro di “Morgagni Est” uno spazio d’improvvisazione in cui dà sfogo agli imbizzarrimenti tipici del suo stile in solo. A livello timbrico, Zanchini porta con sé quanto raccolto dalle sperimentazioni elettroniche degli ultimi anni con un uso moderato di effetti applicati alla fisarmonica in parte dei brani.

La classe e la qualità di questo CD, pur non essendo una sorpresa (essendo già nota e ampiamente dimostrata la statura dei quattro musicisti), rappresenta però un solido punto di partenza per un quartetto che ha intenzione di non essere una fugace meteora ma una realtà duratura del panorama jazzistico internazionale.

All About Jazz, January 2011

By Karl Ackermann

Little more than a year ago, the great Croation guitarist, Ratko Zjaca, released the terrific Continental Talk (In + Out Records 2009) with his longtime collaborator, saxophonist, Stanislav Mitrovic, and some all-star American support. Not content to follow even a highly successful formula, Zjaca has teamed with Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini, Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum for The Way We Talk. Zjaca’s new—but still global—quartet represents a change, not only in group structure, but in its break with traditional instrumentation. Individually, Zjaca and Zanchini contribute original compositions to this surprisingly adventurous outing; as co-leaders, their distinct approaches find common ground and unique harmonies across a range of jazz styles.

The accordion’s appearance in American jazz dates back to Bennie Moten’s Orchestra in the ’40s but it has hardly been a mainstay over the years, given its inexact musical nature. More recently, Guy Klucevsek brought the accordion to avant-garde places, with John Zorn and others. Zanchini’s techniques are expansive, and throughout The Way We Talk, he encompasses styles from free jazz to ballads with a few tastefully arranged electronics to enhance the effect. From the opening “Pippo,” Zanchini dispels any preconceptions that the accordion is only for polka. He rapidly fires off articulate notes that give way to Zjaca’s decidedly improvised lead, and then a brief solo from Nussbaum. “Twilight Time Again” slows to mid-tempo and a more melodic line. Here, the synergy between Zjaca and Zanchini gels as they play off each other with the dexterity of a long-established frontline.

“La Stanza Di Arturo” is a unique combination of mainstream swing and inventive rhythms. Nussbaum’s driving beat propels the piece at breakneck speed, while Zjaca and Zanchini trade some sizzling leads. Dedicated to Miroslav Vitous, “Kandinsky Night” is dominated by a free jazz sensation, with some electronics augmenting the piece, but it is “Morgagni Est” that comes as close to the fringe as the accordion can go. Lest it become too easy to get caught up in the novel aspects of this collection, there is Zjaca’s superb guitar work on pieces like “Frida Is Vanished,” where his lucid and bluesy expressions substantiate his solid reputation as one of Eastern Europe’s finest musicians and composers. Whether on the somewhat funky “Out Of Body,” or the plaintive “A Friend For Life,” Zjaca plays with great emotion and technique.

While both Gjakonovski and Nussbaum are positioned lower in the mix, they keep a nuanced control over each piece, letting the tension build on the faster numbers while never precluding the possibility that something might explode. On Zjaca’s beautiful ballad, “A Forest Of Love,” the co-leaders perform as a duo, with Zanchini recalling the great bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, and Zjaca’s personal but open melodic monologue. Zjaca and Zanchini have created something very different in The Way We Talk. The temptation to resort to clichés, when incorporating an outlier such as the accordion is great. These two master musicians are never overly reserved or exaggerated on this fine collection.

All About Jazz, December 2010

By Dan Bilawsky

Guitarist Ratko Zjaca’s previous albums have been cross-cultural affairs, with top-flight American jazz musicians joining the Croatian guitarist on his musical journeys. While these players have vastly different backgrounds, Zjaca’s music has acted as a binding agent, allowing these disparate musical personalities to coalesce into a solid working unit that moves together in service of the music. The Way We Talk continues this global trend with an American drummer, Italian accordion player and Macedonian bassist joining the guitarist, but the music here is in a completely different vein from Zjaca’s prior outings.

Zjaca shares top billing with accordionist Simone Zanchini, and the program is entirely made up of pieces from each of the co-leaders. The quartet’s unique instrumentation—spiced up with the addition of electronic effects on certain pieces—helps tie things together, but the music is all over the stylistic map. The album opener, “Pippo,” begins with some scurrying accordion lines, underscored with rhythmic punctuation from drummer Adam Nussbaum and bassist Martin Gjakonovski. After Zanchini has some fun, the musical seas part and allow for Zjaca’s guitar work to come to the fore. The follow-up to this Zanchini-penned piece is a Zjaca original that works off a relaxed swing feel. This piece could qualify as an almost-waltz, but measures of two get mixed into the music. Gjakonovski’s solo is a winner here, and the song moves to a loping swing feel as things wind down.

While the first two pieces illustrate a profound difference in each man’s compositional strategies, they don’t define either one. Zanchini’s romantic side comes out on the seductive “Frida Is Vanished,” while Zjaca matches that mood with “A Friend For Life.” Stockhausen-esque sounds and other oddities seep into the mix on the far-reaching “Morgagni Est,” beginning with aural approximations of a didgeridoo (or a mooing cow) and followed by some eerie, unsettling sounds. Out of nowhere, a hip, faux-Arabian melody appears and vanishes, making one more showing at the end of the piece.

Plenty of people might walk away after hearing this number, but they’d be missing out. Nothing else is as challenging a listen, and each of the remaining pieces are gems. Zanchini’s burning, intense “La Stanza Di Arturo” features some aggressive, driving cymbal work from Nussbaum, while Gjakonovski’s bass work acts a catalyst for rhythmic change. Zjaca’s “Forest Of Love” is a gorgeous duo delight from the co-leaders, while “Adam and Eva” almost sounds like an organ-group at various times, featuring Zjaca’s most straightforward and impressive guitar solo of the album. The closing “Out Of Body” is a swinging jazz waltz with cleanly articulated melodic thoughts. Zanchini finally lets his chops run wild, delivering some jaw-dropping runs during this tour-de-force display.

Zjaca has taken a bold step forward with The Way We Talk, collaborating with Zanchini to move beyond their individual visions and broaden the possibilities inherent in guitar-accordion collaborations.

Italian review, November 2010

Il gruppo capeggiato dal chitarrista Ratko Zjaca e dal fisarmonicista Simone Zanchini rappresenta una inusuale fusione di culture e influenze musicale diverse. Anche la provenienza geografica dei quattro componenti rispecchia questo eclettismo: Croazia (Ratko Zjaca), Italia (Simone Zanchini), Macedonia (il bassista Martin Gjakonovski), Stati Uniti (il batterista Adam Nussbaum). Negli undici brani originali (tutti portano la firma di Zjaca e Zanchini) che animano questo disco dal titolo evocativo “The Way We Talk” si intrecciano linguaggi e approcci talvolta divergenti, ma che trovano un’inaspettata fusione. Da un lato un chitarrista fortemente legata all’estetica del jazz contemporaneo (Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie), dall’altra un virtuoso fisarmonicista con le radici nel folklore e nella musica classica. «La cosa affascinante di questa produzione è che la musica segue direzioni diverse e tutti abbiamo la sensazione di scoprire sempre nuovi elementi» spiega Zjaca «Sono molto felice che questo album sia stato realizzato, perché credo che abbiamo qualcosa di speciale da dire e, nel fare questo, abbiamo un suono autentico e innovativo».

Italian review, November 2010
In + Out Records, September 2010

They talk to each other – and also to their audience. It’s a very special vocabulary, a new form of multilingual communication in which European music culture and the history of swinging America are linked. A mixture of past and present, of classical music and improvisation, of folklore and innovation. If you check out the line-up of Ratko Zjaca’s and Simone Zanchini’s quartet, you will immediately notice how borders blur. Guitarist Zjaca stems from Croatia, accordionist Zanchini is Italian, Martin Gjakonovski, the bass player, is from Macedonia (although he now lives in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne) and drummer Adam Nussbaum is from the USA. A “task force” of aesthetic options that embraces different races and continents. For Ratko Zjaca this is also a philosophy of life. It is the aim of this guitar wizard, the creator of this project, to bring together opposites and broaden horizons.

Four years ago he met Simone Zanchini and Adam Nussbaum for the first time at a jazz workshop in Slovenia. “Teachers gave concerts there and they also had jam sessions,” Zjaca recalls. “We played together and created sounds that were really interesting and exciting.” A tour followed in 2009, then the four of them went into the Klangstudio Leyh, IN+OUT Records’ preferred recording studio, and recorded eleven original compositions by Zjaca and Zanchini. “The fascinating thing about this production is that the music follows different directions and we all feel that we are discovering new elements all the time,” says Ratko Zjaca. “I’m very happy that this album came into being, because I believe we have something special to say and, in doing this, we have an authentic and fresh sound.” First and foremost, the band leaders form a diametrical unity. On the one hand there is the guitar player, grounded in contemporary jazz – Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, Mike Stern, Bob Brookmeyer and John Abercrombie all left their marks on his playing. On the other hand we have an accordion virtuoso with roots in folklore and also in classical and New Music. Both of them inspire each other in a synergetic way, mutually absorb their influences and demonstrate their European gene code. “It definitely is a jazz album”, says Simone Zanchini. “but it is certainly not classic mainstream jazz. The word ‘jazz’ embraces such a tremendous range of music that the repertoire in the year 2010 cannot be the same as it was in 1940. The points of reference remain, of course, creativity and improvisation.” There is a photograph that shows Simone Zanchini with an accordion at the age of two. He says, “The instrument was always connected with our family. I always wanted to be a musician, not only an accordionist.” He named accordion pioneer Art van Damme, who passed away earlier this year, as “my guru”, colleague Frank Marocco as “a model“ and pianist Keith Jarrett as “my inspiration“. What links Simone Zanchini and Ratko Zjaca together apart from their joint love of acoustic adventures, is their fondness for movies, in particular the cinematic masterpieces of Federico Fellini. In an interview they each described sections of their début album as “Fellini-esque”. In this sense you could say that, with their ingenious hotchpotch, the quartet created “Fellini jazz”.

CD: Continental Talk

Audiophile Audition, March 2011

By Pierre Giroux

Putting together a record date when more than one musician is involved can be full of drama. Imagine such a date, when not only are there five musicians, but a cross-cultural blend of three Americans, a Croatian (Zjaca) and a Serb (Mitrovic). Fortunately with music as the common language, the results are worth the effort.

In this set of twelve ambitious compositions that make up “Continental Talk”, guitarist Ratko Zjaca provided nine tunes, and tenor sax player Stanislav Mitrovic contributed three. All fall into the contemporary music or fusion category. The challenge, of course, is to engage the listening audience, where two of the principals Zjaca and Mitrovic are basically unknown, despite their musical training and undoubted technique. Leading off with “Breakfast in Tokyo” which has a bluesy feel, this gives Zjaca an opportunity to set the stage for the balance of the disc.

The next three compositions, “The New Life”, “Portrait in Retrograde” and “Inner Ears” continue with the opening premise, and are harmonically bright, with “Retrograde” having a subtle bossa nuance. While the Americans Patitucci and Gadd make their presence felt from the very first tune, it is not until Randy Brecker with his biting trumpet joins on “Correspondance” that the group really pushes itself to the next level. Zjaca responds to the occasion with some vigorous playing, and Mitrovic offers a short but well-intentioned solo. This sophisticated interplay among the group continues on the other cuts with Brecker, namely “The Gate” and “e Doubt”. Going back to a couple of earlier tunes in the session, particular attention should be paid to “Home Again” and “Feather”, where there is some sensitive musical communication between Zjaca and Mitrovic.

Regardless of the instrumental configuration of the group on the various pieces, the result is the same. This is a combination with a remarkable amount of musical talent, which bodes well if they chose to embark on future endeavours.

Vintage Guitar, January 2011

Intriguing and fine jazz set from guitarist Zjaca, who is joined by an all-star cast that includes John Patitucci on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, Randy Brecker on trumpet, and Stanislav Mitrovic on sax. It’s not a full-time band, but sounds like one. Great playing and perfect interplay.

By Karl Ackermann, USA, August 2010

When a group’s credentials include bassist John Patitucci, drummer Steve Gadd and trumpeter Randy Brecker, it’s not an unreasonable expectation to hear some quality jazz. What may be more surprising is that leader, guitarist and composer, Ratko Zjaca and his longtime collaborator, saxophonist, Stanislav Mitrovic, steal the show on Continental Talk. This revelation is almost entirely due to the relative obscurity of these Croatian musicians in the U.S. As a teenager, Zjaca was inspired by performances from both the John Coltrane and Miles Davis groups in his native country. There are a number of middle-eastern styles that have also informed Zjaca’s previous work. Though he has worked with a number of principal talents in jazz, it is his 2004 duo release with Mitrovic, Shades of Spirit (Sam Sam Music), which best demonstrates both musicians’ sweeping creativity.

“Breakfast in Tokyo” opens the set as a mid-tempo, post bop number that, almost imperceptibly, leads into a slower paced solo from Zjaca before Mitrovic picks up speed with own intriguing solo. Patitucci also establishes his own important role right from this opening track. It’s a fine and promising start to a program of nine original Zjaca compositions and three from Mitrovic. “Portrait in Retrograde” with a breezy Jobim feel to it, is a bit of calm before the storm. “Kurasawa” sees Mitrovic breaking out with an extended improvisational solo that is truly impressive. “At the Crossroads,” at slightly under three minutes, is a charming duet between Zjaca and Mitrovic, and one of the real highlights of this recording.

The tempo continues at a leisurely pace on “Home Again”—a folksy piece featuring Zjaca on acoustic guitar and Mitrovic on tenor. “Correspondance” is where the quartet switches to quintet with Brecker’s first appearance. Not surprisingly, things take a funky turn, with Brecker sounding as good as ever, blowing a rapid-fire setup for some of Zjaca’s most energetic playing of the set. However, it is Mitrovic’s tenor that, once again, becomes the attention-grabber with a short but dynamic solo. Mitrovic picks up the soprano and dramatically slows down the tempo on the appropriately titled “Feather,” a piece that, once again, highlights the great interplay between the saxophonist and Zjaca, as they weave a dreamscape melody with just enough free play to turn it into a duet that could easily have continued much longer.

Whether Continental Talk is featuring a duo, quartet or quintet, it manages to seamlessly mix some beautifully lyrical pieces such as “Anibas” with fusion-oriented works like “E Doubt” and straight-ahead numbers like “The New Life.” What is most remarkable about Continental Talk, however, is the broad spectrum of skills in the hands of Zjaca and Mitrovic. Their ability to create and perform in what amounts to a cross-functional mélange of jazz styles is impressive, and the results are highly enjoyable.

By Chuck Vecoli, USA

Continental Talk is the latest release by Croatian-born guitarist Ratko Zjaca.  You may not have heard of Zjaca, but you will surely have heard of the sidemen he brought together for this project.  The likes of Patitucci, Gadd, and a Brecker brother thrown in for good measure, make this a who’s who of session jazzmen.  Working along with saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic, Zjaca delivers an impressive collection of compositions executed freely by the top notch band.  Steve Gadd and John Patitucci make an excellent rhythm section capable of any form of groove creation and maintenance.  Randy Brecker on trumpet and Mitrovic on saxes, provide two voices to compliment Zjaca in putting the color into his compositions.

All twelve of the compositions on this CD are unique in the way they allow the entire ensemble to blend and create a signature sound while enabling individual voices to rise up for the listener.  Ratko Zjaca is an accomplished guitarist, having worked both sides of the pond with the likes of Al Foster and others.   This line-up, however, is an ideal grouping for these songs.  The compositions are beautiful canvases for the artists to paint a new picture of emotional depth.  This is not a CD aimed at spotlighting Zjaca’s own talent on guitar, although it certainly does that.  No, this CD is a venue for some really interesting compositions to be expressed by some extremely talented musicians.   The fact that the session went down without a hitch and that the musicians themselves have expressed satisfaction with what they all have created is testimony to the vision that Zjaca had.  Bring these great musicians together, give them solid charts to create with and let them do their thing.

Another surprise on this CD is the remarkable saxophone work of Stan Mitrovic.  He wields both tenor and soprano with power and sensitivity.  One of my favorites is his opening duet with Steve Gadd on drums on the cut “Inner Ear.”   His compositions “Correspondance” and “Feather” add dimension to the collection, spreading out that power and sensitivity.  Brecker stretches out on “Correspondance,” pulling Zjaca into a place that makes this composition really swing.   On “Feather,” the soprano work is haunting and wistful.

With an A-list of sessions players, compositions that reek of classic jazz, and execution that is flawless in its freshness, Continental Talk is a piece of work that should begin to draw jazz fans to Ratko Zjaca’s work.  He demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the art and craft of jazz, composition, arrangement and execution…if evidenced in no other way than knowing which musicians to put in a studio to make the music come alive!  As a guitarist, he has so much to offer.  This CD is a fair taste of that contribution that Zjaca has made and is yet to make.  He continues to make jazz the international language!, August 2010

Ratko Zjaca, John Patitucci, Steve Gadd, Stanislav Mitrovic, Randy Brecker – “Continental Talk”

Croatian guitarist Zjaca studed with such masters as Pat Metheny, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie and Mick Goodrick in Europe before moving to NYC. He has recorded several previous albums as a leader, including A Day in Manhattan with Reggie Workman and Al Foster, and 2007’s Crossing the Border with Foster, bassist John Patitucci and saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic. For Continental Talk, Steve Gadd replaces Foster, while Patitucci and Mitrovic return. Additionally, trumpeter Randy Brecker appears on three of the final five tracks. The comfort level between the players, and of course the talent, are made even more readily apparent when Zjaca says all 12 tracks were first takes – something that is hard to fathom based on how together everything sounds, but understandable in how freshly the compositions are rendered. Zjaca’s songs are generally mid-tempo and intricate (“Breakfast in Tokyo,” “The New Life”) and never sound forced or hurried. His clean guitar tone combined with Pattitucci’s patient undulations anchor the sound, while Gadd has the freedom to create a plethora of rhythm elements. Mitrovic’s saxes (tenor and soprano) take hold of the melodies and fly with them on numbers like the Brazilian-flavored “Portrait in Retrogade.” I hate the term “post-bop,” but the description does seem fit well here, as the quartet builds on tradition while obliterating cultural and musical boundaries to create a merger of American and European jazz (with occasional Latin touches: “Home Again,” the funky “The Gate”). Zjaca’s guitar work recalls the work of his mentors, but with his own personal voice. He usually relies on his electric, but shows a masterful touch on acoustic guitar on “At the Crossroads” and “Anibas” The guitarist supplies most of the music here, while Mitrovic adds in three numbers of his own, including two of the three featuring the veteran Brecker – who lights up the recording with his incendiary playing., July 2010

Ratko Zjaca/John Patitucci/Steve Gadd/Stanislav Mitrovic/Randy Brecker’s “Continental Talk”

Sometimes all you need to see is the equation and immediately understand the value of its eventual sum. I do not speak of mathematics, but perhaps I am, for the math in this case is the equation of guitarist Ratko Zjaca, along with drummer Steve Gadd, bassist John Patitucci, saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic, and trumpeter Randy Brecker. Got the mouth drooling? It’s understandable, and with Zjaca as leader, they create a fantastic album called Continental Talk (In+Out) that feels like the 1970’s jazz scene never stopped creating this level of intensity. It’s fusion, it’s laid back but never smooth, it’s musicianship at its finest and you know what you’re hearing because they know this music is meant to be listened to. As the liner note indicates, “it was a very free session, musically speaking everyone played their hearts out” and it feels like freedom. Light up a candle, and “The New Life” could be the backdrop for your next intercourse session. Play “Breakfast In Tokyo”, inhale, and take in the sounds and scents of a new land. Play “Feather” and tickle yourself to remind yourself that this music and performances aren’t a dream. Whether it’s on his acoustic or electric, Zjaca plays with (p)reserved precision, and I myself liked it when he interacts with bassist Patitucci, as if they’re driving each other and everyone around them to dig deeper and come up with sounds of wisdom. Musically and culturally, they let all borders go but still understand what it means to have a Continental Talk. Put this album and create your own means of dialog., July 2010

Ratko Zjaca: Continental Talk

When a group’s credentials include bassist John Patitucci, drummer Steve Gadd and trumpeter Randy Brecker, it’s not an unreasonable expectation to hear some quality jazz. What may be more surprising is that leader, guitarist and composer, Ratko Zjaca and his longtime collaborator, saxophonist, Stanislav Mitrovic, steal the show on Continental Talk. This revelation is almost entirely due to the relative obscurity of these Croatian musicians in the U.S. As a teenager, Zjaca was inspired by performances from both the John Coltrane and Miles Davis groups in his native country. There are a number of middle-eastern styles that have also informed Zjaca’s previous work. Though he has worked with a number of principal talents in jazz, it is his 2004 duo release with Mitrovic, Shades of Spirit (Sam Sam Music), which best demonstrates both musicians’ sweeping creativity…

JazzWax, July 2010

By having the electric guitar run unison lines with the saxophone, Ratko Zjaca has produced a fascinating fusion-hard bop feel. The electric and acoustic guitarist leads a quintet on Continental Talk that includes bassist John Patitucci, drummer Steve Gadd, saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic and trumpeter Randy Brecker. The group blends together perfectly, working through intricate melody lines like the ones on Kurosawa and Correspondence or on more tender pieces like At the Crossroads and Home Again.

Ken Dryden, USA, August 2010

Guitarist Ratko Zjaca has been on the jazz scene for a while but remains a talent deserving of wider recognition. A graduate of Zagreb University who also studied jazz at Rotterdam Conservatory and New York University, Zjaca has either taken master classes or studied individually with giants like Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer, John Abercrombie, and Mick Goodrick, among others. Zjaca recorded several CDs prior to Continental Talk, while both bassist John Patitucci and tenor saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic have recorded with him previously, with the quartet rounded out by veteran drummer Steve Gadd. Zjaca’s opening minor blues “Breakfast in Tokyo” proves to be immediately infectious, with robust solos by Mitrovic, the leader, and Patitucci. Zjaca moves to acoustic guitar for his intimate miniature “At the Crossroads,” with Mitrovic added on tenor around its midpoint. Mitrovic also contributed several originals, including the bossa nova-flavored “E Doubt,” which showcases guest trumpeter Randy Brecker. Mitrovic switches to soprano for “Inner Ears,” engaging in a edgy duet with Gadd in its opening minutes, remaining on the instrument for his plaintive ballad “Feathers.” This potent session should help increase the awareness of both Ratko Zjaca and Stanislav Mitrovic.

Trierischer Volksfreund, Germany, July 2009
Jazz Podium, Germany, July 2009
AD HOC News, Germany, June 2009

Ratko Zjaca – Continental Talk

Schon immer zieht sich grenzüberschreitendes, völkerverbindendes Musizieren wie ein roter Faden durch die künstlerischen Aktivitäten des aus Kroatien stammenden Wundergitarristen Ratko Zjaca. Allein schon seine wichtigsten Karrierestationen Zagreb, Rotterdam und New York belegen geografisch diese globale Ausrichtung. Folglich ist der Inhalt wie auch die Bandbesetzung seines aktuellen Albums “Continental Talk” geprägt von dieser weltverbindenden, künstlerischen Kommunikationsform.

Als Vertreter des amerikanischen Kontinents sowie des klassischen Jazz hat Ratko Zjaca mit dem Trompeter Randy Brecker, dem Schlagzeuger Steve Gadd und dem Bassisten John Patitucci drei Hochkaräter dieses Genres eingeladen. Komplettiert wird die Quintettbesetzung durch seinen europäischen Freund und Saxofonisten Stanislav Mitrovic.

Auch die Musik – alle zwölf Titel sind von Ratko Zjaca eigens für das Album geschriebene Kompositionen – drücken die oben beschriebenen Eigenschaften aus: Weltoffenheit, Toleranz, Integration, Verbindung.

Stilistisch bewegt sich die Musik in den Bereichen des Bebop, Cool-Jazz und Modern-Swing. Aus homogen interpretierten Themen entwickeln sich individuelle solistische Improvisationen, die spannungsvoll und feinfühlig von den Mitmusikern unterstützt werden, sich formal stets in den vorgegebenen Rahmen bewegen, um dann wieder im gemeinsamen Finale den Kreis zu schließen. Ratko Zjaca, der auch als Produzent von “Continental Talk” verantwortlich zeichnet, definiert das selbstbewusst und mit berechtigtem Stolz als einen “Austausch auf höchster Ebene”.

In der Tat musiziert das eigens für diese Aufnahmen zusammengesetzte Quintett erstaunlich ausgewogen und eingespielt, und vermittelt akustisch den Eindruck einer bereits langjährigen gemeinsamen Aktivität. Vielleicht ja kreuzen sich die Wege dieser hochkarätigen Musiker wieder einmal zu einer nochmaligen, so harmonischen und Brücken bauenden Session.

Jazzthethik, Germany
All About Jazz

By John Barron – When guitarist Ratko Zjaca plans a recording session, he thinks big in terms of sidemen. The guitarist’s 2006 release Crossing the Border featured bassist John Patitucci and drummer Al Foster, along with saxophonist and co-producer Stanislav Mitrovic. For Continental Talk, Patitucci and Mitrovic return and Foster is replaced by legendary drummer Steve Gadd. Trumpeter Randy Brecker is featured on three tunes.

The disc’s twelve tracks – all original material written by Zjaca and Mitrovic – range from in-the-pocket funk to more open-ended modal jams. Zjaca leads the way throughout with his clean-toned hollow body Gibson guitar. The opening minor blues “Breakfast in Tokyo” and the mellow 6/8 bounce of “Portrait in Retrograde” demonstrate the guitarist’s use of lush voicings and swinging single note lines. Tunes such as “At the Crossroads,” “Home Again” and “Anibas” portray a light and lyrical landscape with Zjaca featured on acoustic guitar.

Mitrovic soars gracefully from track to track on both tenor and soprano saxophone. Indeed, the saxophonist turns in some of the more inspiring solos on the recording, including a Joe Henderson-inspired romp through his own composition “Correspondence” and a memorable duet with Gadd at the beginning of “Inner Ears.”

As would be expected, Gadd and Patitucci provide rock-solid support with sensitivity to the unfolding of each groove. Brecker blows everybody away with brazen force, especially on the rocked-up “E Doubt.”

Image Hifi, Germany
M.P., Germany

Surpassing boundaries, building bridges, bringing people together. It is clear from the biography and discography of the brilliant Croatian guitarist, Ratko Zjaca, that he is very much driven by these concepts. Earlier CDs are called Crossing The Border and  A day in Manhattan  and, meanwhile, flights between Amsterdam  and New York have become a comfortable routine and English the predominant language. Ratko Zjaca stands as a symbol of the ongoing evolution of American classic jazz as it increasingly becomes a country-uniting form of communication.

No wonder, then, that Ratko has named his debut album for In+Out Records Continental Talk. The dialogue between the new and old world is functioning much better. With him as moderator, far fewer conflicts arise than is the case on political platforms. A bilateral exchange without pre-conditions and prejudices, in which the string sorcerer is on the same level as accomplished artists such as trumpet player, Randy Brecker, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Steve Gadd creates a new æsthetic of improvisation. “Two years ago, when I recorded Crossing The Border with John, and shortly afterwards started to play live with Randy and Steve, I knew instantly that I wanted to do my next recording with them,” said Ratko. The decision to realise this project came about when he was on a plane with his friend and saxophone player, Stanislav Mitrovic. “It was a case of small talk above the clouds, between America and Europe. Which is the reason the CD is called Continental Talk.”

Quite early in Ratko Zjaca’s career, there were vivid indications of his extreme global yearning. After completing his studies at the University of Zagreb, the highly talented guitarist attended the conservatory of Rotterdam, where he plunged himself head on into the world of modern music. He attended master classes as well as individual lessons given by Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, Mike Stern, Bob Brookmeyer and John Abercrombie, at the same time dedicating himself to the study of composition. After Rotterdam he attended the New York University School of Music. Soon Ratko had gained the status of being something of a secret weapon on strings and he won the recognition of famous colleagues, not only in the USA but also in Europe. He worked with such great artists as Benny Bailey, Gary Peacock, Reggie Workman, Al Foster,Reggie Workman, Miroslav Vitous,Steve Gadd, Ron Carter,Randy Brecker, Jimmy Cobb, Alvin Queen and Adam Nussbaum.

For his dream ensemble, the heroes of his youth, Zjaca wanted to write music that was perfectly fitting. He says: “This was extremely simple, considering the line-up. An almost natural process, an organic symbiosis”. This symbiosis continued during the session. Zjaca, Brecker, Patitucci, Mitrovic and Gadd merely had to look at each other, giving a short nod, and the creative energy poured forth like a lava stream. Only one take was required for each one of the twelve titles. Every band member was receptive to the impulses of the others and was immensely communicative. “I never wanted an album for my ego,” said Ratko Zjaca. “My intentions were, first and foremost, to achieve an exchange at the highest level. And this actually worked! I cannot possibly describe how much we enjoyed this moment. But it can be heard, it sounds so obvious and pure. I have never felt better during a recording session.” And he was never better than on Continental Talk.

Muziekwereld, The Netherlands

The compositions are characterized by fantasy-rich melodies which move freely about the tight accompaniment with a lot of humour and playfulness. The musicians leave each other all the space they need. The CD sounds natural and grand with great dynamics.

New Page

The music on this record shows that Ratko is a matured composer. What is great on Continental Talk is the unpretentious group playing, you can hear that the musicians in the group really like to play together. What results is spontaneity and honest playing. Great record.

CD: Crossing the Border

JazzImprov, April 2007, New York City

CROSSING THE BORDER – Nishville Records

CD 0023. Then And Now; Welcome To Our Jungle; The Place To Be; Soul House (It’s For You); The 5th Room; Great Ocean Road (For Dick De Clerck); Sweet In Sorrow; Hyperventilation; For No Reason (For My Ana); Another Day; Bass; Aloysius.

PERSONNEL: Ratko Zjaca, electric guitar/acoustic guitar; Stanislav Mitrovic, tenor saxophone; John Patitucci, bass; Al Foster, drums.

By Dan Bilawsky

The four musicians who receive equal billing on the cover of Crossing The Border are truly tuned in to one another. While you might be lead, by the cover billing, toward believing that this is a collective, and the four members do gel incredibly well together, this project is largely the creation of Ratko Zjaca with Stanislav Mitrovic. Zjaca, A Croatian born guitarist who has spent time studying at Zagreb University in his home country, the Rotterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands and the NYU School of Music in New York, brings a great degree of warmth and creativity to his music. Zjaca clearly leads, plays and composes with the entire sound of the ensemble in mind. He wrote seven of the twelve original compositions on the album. “Then and Now,” which has a cool, slick and seductive sound, is our first opportunity to marvel at the connection between Zjaca’s guitar work and Mitrovic’s silky saxophone sound. Al Foster stays away from grooves with well-worn clichés that many drummers would have inserted instead choosing to vary things and demonstrate his subtle musical motions. John Patitucci does a great job bridging the gap between the dual roles as rhythm section member and melodic improviser. The rhythmic propulsion, provided by Patitucci and Foster, is much more defined during “Welcome To Our Jungle.” The angular improvisations from Mitrovic, with Zjaca lurking in the background, give the piece a menacing sound. Foster’s unaccompanied drum solo takes the piece in a slightly different direction and the return of the rest of the band pulls the listener back to the core of the piece. “The Place To Be”, a lovely jazz waltz with some interesting harmonic choices, gives us a chance to hear Zjaca and Mitrovic playing in a more conventional vein. “Soul House (It’s For You),” sounds like it was strongly influenced by Brazilian music. The harmonic progression, the lightly floating melody, stated beautifully by Mitrovic, and the understated groove from Patitucci and Foster help to give the music its gentle South American sound. Zjaca, who leans toward a more classically influenced performance style during his solo, creates the perfect contrast to Mitrovic’s sound.

“The 5th Room” is a fun Zjaca original in five that demonstrates his ability to make odd metered compositions feel natural. “Great Ocean Road (For Dick De Clerck)” begins with a guitar introduction that will melt your soul. The song remains in the same emotional arena when Mitrovic enters, but the intimacy is lost. While the program, to this point, has been all Zjaca tunes, a solid block of Mitrovic originals changes things up a bit. “Sweet In Sorrow” mixes the soul of “Soul House (It’s For You)” with a more modern European slant and features a great bass solo from Patitucci. “Hyperventilation,” built on syncopated rhythmic phrases and slight melodic shifts, has a Monk-ish quality and is instantly appealing. “For No Reason (For My Ana),” the final Mitrovic composition on the album, has a reflective quality, which is noir-ish in a way. The song benefits greatly from Patitucci who contributes a fine solo and gives the piece a rhythmic foundation which holds things together. “Another Day” is a non-traditional twelve bar blues that gives us an opportunity to hear the guitarist really let loose. Mitrovic, Patitucci and Foster trade twelve bar solos and listening to each person deconstruct the rhythmic material of the song is delightful! “Aloysius,” the lone Foster composition on the program, follows a wonderful and all too-brief bass solo, called “Bass,” from Patitucci. The Foster piece, which closes the album, fuses swing and samba and Mitrovic gives his most enthusiastic performance on the album. It is great to hear his tone take on a bit more heft, grit and rasp as he wails through his solo. This song provides a strong ending to a great program of original tunes from these four musicians.

Jazz Review, April 2007, New York City

Record Label: Nishville Records

By John Barron

Incredible playing, well crafted tunes, and top-notch production make for an outstanding release by guitarist Ratko Zjaca and tenor saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic. On Crossing the Border, the European duo, joined by two giants of modern jazz, drummer Al Foster and bassist John Patitucci, provide a soulful listening experience while challenging their own musical identities.

Zjaca, a guitarist of diverse influence, is hard to categorize. His tone is pure and his lines are highly lyrical. His solos contain traces of legends ranging from Kenny Burrell to Pat Metheny. All nods to the past, however, are merely incidental, and perhaps necessary, as Zjaca takes his place in the lineage of jazz guitar. His compositions are harmonically rich, clever, and stylistically diverse. “Welcome to Our Jungle” has a modal texture and melodic structure resembling Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” “The Place to Be” is a buoyant waltz, and “Soul House” is a meditative bossa nova.

Co-leader and contributing composer Mitrovic has a dominating, yet sensitive tone. His sound contains the brawn of old-time shouters like Gene Ammons and the elusiveness of Wayne Shorter.

Patitucci is in characteristically brilliant form. His feel, choice of notes, and intonation is astonishing. The bassist takes breathtaking solo leaps on “Another Day,” “For No Reason,” and the short, unaccompanied “Bass.”

Crossing the Border is a solid testament to the healthy state of jazz. Zjaca and Mitrovic are both confident artists who have a firm grasp of the genre’s history and are well prepared to help shape the future.

Tracks: Then and Now, Welcome to Our Jungle, The Place to Be, Soul House, The 5th Room, Great Ocean Road, Sweet in Sorrow, Hyperventilation, For No Reason, Another Day, Bass, Aloysius

CD: Shades of Spirit

L.C. Tokyo News

This is absolutely a fantastic CD – music without borders. Fantastic communication between two musicians.

Morning (FJ)

This is one of the most exciting and creative CDs that I’ve heard in the last couple of years. It’s a real musical trip from east to west, from north to south.

New Page

This music is very organic, compact, dynamic and goes into unexpected directions. A real musical trip. After listening to this great CD many times, it gives me a special, spiritual dimension.


We have eagerly awaited this album for quite some time and after having played it constantly for a week it is still avoiding categarisation. You could say it was new music, certainly you would not of heard this combination of sounds ten years ago.

Shades of Spirit ranges from almost shamanic type rhythms, through rootsy ethnic trances, past complex intertwined melodies, all tinged with jazz echoes. Hmm.. perhaps we need to go deeper. Ratko Zjaca & Stanislav Mitrovic provide all the music on the album and the title “Shades of Spirit” is no accident, if you play the blues guitar with your Soul, you play the fretless guitar with your Spirit and this really does describe this album. Put it on the deck, turn on, volume up, and your speakers start to belch sunshine.

The CD kicks off with a seven minute track La Caldera de Taburiente. While the early tracks establish a superb ethnic outdoor jazzy feel the stunning fifth track, “Tuto E Come Prima” has some of the most sensitive fretless work I’ve heard to date, with a tight backing which feels like its about to explode but just keeps simmering away.

Track seven see’s Ratko’s jazz influences breaking through (believe me he is a stunning jazz guitarist). Stanislav provides a very interesting synth harmonica part to this tea time jazz excursion. Just when you thought all was safe along comes “Murphy’s Tango” a mad mix of madrigal beat / jig like riffs / french accordion, you have to hear it!

The whole thing winds up with “Count Up” which is the sort of thing Weather Report might have done if Zawinul had ever got hold of a fretless guitar.

This is a very pleasant album, every song is well crafted and structured, the playing is immaculate, the combination of Ratko and Stanislav a perfect duet. Go buy some sunshine!

CD: A Day in Manhattan

OWL am Sonntag

“A Day in Manhattan” is the superb result of Ratko Zjaca’s recording session with John Coltrane’s bass player Reggie Workman and Miles Davis’ drummer Al Foster. This CD is just great!

Norddeutscher Rundfunk

In his playing together with Reggie Workman and Al Foster, Ratko Zjaca sounds like a great guitar player. This CD should absolutely not be missing in your CD-rack!

Leeuwarder Courant

Perfectionism and emotion are often difficult to bring together, but Ratko proves with his CD that the two can be perfectly combined. He plays technically great, but the basis remains his musical talent which can be heard in his great in his great melody and harmony. A beautiful record.

WAM Magazine

This is a great CD, congratulations Ratko! Beautiful compositions, tender, sensible, and technically great guitar playing, with so much harmonic and rhytmic texture.


The combination of musical talent and a great passion, looking for perfection, is very appealing. This CD belongs to the absolute top.


As a guitar player he has a beautiful tone, technique, musical talent and a relaxed approach. But what makes this CD even more interesting is that he is also a great composer and arranger.

Other reviews

Rotterdams Dagblad

“Ratko Zjaca plays great and sounds like a great, new guitar star ….”

Ntb Muziekwereld

“A special note for guitarist Ratko Zjaca, who impresses with his tasteful solos and swinging accompaniment….”

Cadence (USA)

“Guitarist Zjaca furnished the lilting “What’s Waiting For Me Here” and is heard on three tracks on this great CD….”

Jazz Journal (Canada)

“….Nice unison sound with saxophone and guitar….”


“Ratko plays in the style of the great, mainstream jazz guitarists with great communication with the New York pianist Frank Stagnitta….”

New Page Magazine

“Ratko demonstrated an excellent technique in playing jazz guitar, and a tasteful concept of his solo playing….”

Vernon Reid, NYC

“Ratko presents a dynamic collection of jazz and attains something very rare indeed a balance between body and soul”