Dušan Jevtović – City Hustling
(Self-published via Bandcamp. Album review by Rob Mallows)
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Barcelona-based Serbian guitarist Dušan Jevtović was an unknown quantity to me. But sometimes, a shot in the dark can pay off.
More familiar may be American bassist Tony Levin of Peter Gabriel and King Crimson fame. Given his status as one of the go-to sidemen for only the most upper-echelon recording artists, Levin’s presence on this album can only be a positive sign that he sees something important in what Jevtović is trying to do, and wants in on the action.
The trio is completed by drummer Marko Djordjevic, whose playing ably supports the two string players.
City Hustling demonstrates a readiness to stretch boundaries rather than play it safe. This does mean, however, it may appeal to a particular, rather than a general listening audience. Its sound is a mixture of rock, blues, jazz-fusion, and free improvisation. Jevtović’s guitar tone is angular, spiky: at points it’s downright angry, almost malevolent. He isn’t about fretboard histrionics: Jevtović’s playing is for the most-part mid-paced and relies a lot on sustain and cut-through rather than sheer quantity of notes.
This album is certainly not an easy ride. It’s an album that makes you work hard as a listener. And like many things in life, sometimes the enjoyment comes from being challenged and made to work for the payoff that results.
Across seven tracks there’s not a huge amount of tonal variation. What there is in spades is improvisation built around a convulsive, propulsive idea: but it’s measured, and doesn’t bamboozle. A track like Searching for New is an improvised fantasy in which Levin and Djordjevic create some undulating rhythmic landscapes over which Jevtović’s guitar swoops in and out. The track doesn’t easily resolve or point the way for the listener: It shifts, jumps around, pulsates.
On I Don’t Know How, a circular bass riff from Levin drives the track forward but again, the melodic destination never feels obvious. It’s like the players are feeling their way in the dark in a form of musical spelunking, going where the gaps emerge. Jevtović also plays with a dangerous abandon that verges at times on the discordant, almost unnerving.
He’ll start what appears to be a developing melody, then it will stop, and move elsewhere. The listener is given few aural cues as to where each track is heading, or how near it is to resolution. It is not designed to calm or soothe.The best track is probably Improve: this kicks off with a series of off-kilter, sustained notes from Jevtović over which Levin improvises and explores the fretboard using multiple effects: things take off when the drums come in and generate some rhythmic spontaneity.
Discordance, dexterity and drive are three ‘D’s that character much of this album. There’s a lot going on on each track and things may only make sense after two or three listens; for instance, there are few memorable, hummable melodies that grab you early on and hook you in. It’s not what you would call ‘accessible’.
That said, Jevtović is clearly a supremely talented player who is not satisfied with just producing a standard-issue guitar trio album. He wants to experiment on his terms.City Hustling provides ample evidence that, within the right boundaries, his readiness to experiment and be spontaneous can propel ideas beyond the humdrum towards the memorable. But the journey is never straightforward.
City Hustling was released on 9 June 2023