from croatia with love

andreas kapsalis (left) and goran ivanovic.

andreas kapsalis (left) and goran ivanovic.

The idea was to try something different within a guitar duo framework. But a look at the cultural heritages of Andreas Kapsalis and Goran Ivanovic suggest an already distinctive string sound.

Kapsalis is the Chicago-reared son of first generation Greek parents that developed an eight finger tapping technique. Ivanovic, a Croatian native, grew up the son of a Serbian father and a Bosnian Croat mother with a love of classical, jazz, and Balkan music.

Not to be presumptuous here, but how can two guitarists from such diverse backgrounds play together and not sound different?

“We actually had to sit down and be very careful about what types of music we wanted to do,” said Ivanovic, who performs an acoustic guitar duo concert with Kapsalis at Natasha’s Bistro on Thursday.

“We were already doing a lot of different things, from classical works to avant-garde jazz things. And we were at a starting point with some of the Spanish classical guitar repertoire. But we had to remind ourselves, ‘There are 100 other ensembles that do this and have been doing this much better for much longer than us.’ We had to start from scratch and build something new that could be a missing link in the guitar repertoire.”

Kapsalis had already established himself in Chicago with a trio that matched his tapping guitar technique – a process developed after recovering from surgery to repair a severed tendon in his left hand – with two percussionists. He has also composed scores for several independent films, several of which are interpreted in trio form on his aptly titled Original Scores album.

Ivanovic’s projects included the ensemble Eastern Blok, a band devoted to the folk inspirations of Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria, as well as progressive guitar collaborations with Fareed Haque.

“I met Andreas five or six years ago,” Ivanovic said. “There was a club in Chicago called The Hot House. Unfortunately, it is closed now. But it was maybe the best jazz and world music venue in town. A booking agent put us on the same bill without us knowing each other. So the bill was Andreas’ band and my band. After the show, we had a few drinks and hit it off.

“That’s kind of how it has to happen. If you want to play with somebody, you really should be friends with them as well.”

Initially, the development of the duo’s new guitar repertoire came slowly as their performances together were infrequent. But last year, the two cut an indie record that defined their sound titled simply Guitar Duo and took to the road. In 2009, Kapsalis and Ivanovic performed over 100 duo concerts.

“Both of us obviously love guitar music, but we also love orchestral classical music and film music. So we tried to come up with something that was kind of non-guitar-istic. We tried to create a lot of different sounds that would sound like a small orchestra. That was a good starting point. Everything evolved from there.”

The film score inspiration surfaces on Guitar Duo by way of Vertigo, a piece that takes it cue from the classic 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name and, to a degree, its famed score by Bernard Herrmann. The tense melody has an almost darkly tropical accent as the music outlines the dynamics that emerge in the differing playing styles of Kapsalis and Ivanovic.

Vertigo is a good example of how we sit down and write,” Ivanovic said. “We saw the Hitchcock movie, which gave us a few ideas for the song. Then we finished writing the music within a few hours. That’s one of the ways we get inspiration – by watching great movies.”

Another Guitar Duo work, Kalajdzisko Oro is ripe with Eastern European inspiration until it leaps into a different time and place by directly quoting Dave Brubeck’s signature tune Blue Rondo a la Turk).

“I’ve been playing that piece with different ensembles for awhile. It’s basically a Macedonian folk song. But I had to pay tribute to Brubeck because he was one of the first jazz musicians to combine folk and modern jazz. The song is kind of my homage to him.”

The inspiration Ivanovic’s music takes from Eastern Europe underscores the fact that he has only lived and worked in the United States for 12 years. While pursuing musical studies in Salzburg in the ‘90s, Ivanovic’s parents were expelled from Croatia. They were soon granted political asylum in this country, landing the guitarist in Chicago.

While he has forged a solid artistic reputation within Chicago’s fertile jazz and improvisational music scene, Ivanovic admits he is still adjusting to a new life in a new land.

“It has been difficult,” he said. “It still is difficult, and challenging. But the saying goes that this is the country of opportunity. If you want to create something of your own, you can.

“When I got off the plane in this country, I went looking for gigs the very next day. It took a long time to find musicians, find friends and find work. It has been, and still is, a journey.

“Obviously, the music I play with Andreas is not mainstream. But we have to write music that is interesting to us in hope that it will relate to other people. That’s why we are prepared to play a lot in this country. We want to find our audience.”

The Andreas Kapsalis and Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo performs at 9 p.m. Jan. 28 at Nastasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Admission is $10. Call (859) 259-2754.

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