After Sanja Marković’s debut last year, A.MA are back in the Balkans with “Reflections”, the latest from Serbian saxophonist, Uglješa Novaković. It’s his second album, following on from “Tales From The Past”, released under the moniker, Uglješa Novaković Quintet, a few years back. Like his debut, it’s a quintet featuring drummer Aleksandar Cvetković, Milan Nikolić on double bass, Aleksandar Grujić – piano and Andrija Stanković – guitar.
The brief electronic ambient of “Intro – Laura’s Sleeping” has a panpipe-ish dreamy vibe but for me, it’s a bit too close to getting a spa treatment so let’s move swiftly on to “Zen Warrior”. The music-box piano melody segues into the sax/guitar signature before bursting into a robust up-tempo fusion electric guitar solo. Novaković’s enjoyable alto solo slowly and methodically elaborates and expands on the signature. The lively start to “Laura’s Playing” is deceiving as tempo and rhythm is expertly pushed and pulled throughout the tune. It’s an exciting showcase for the expressive and energetic drums. Aleksandar’s playing!
“Don’t Slam The F… Door” is boppy with sax and piano solos played with gusto on walking baselines and occasional hints of Latin bounce. The most ambitious and interesting track of the set is “Ambivalence/Belgrade Tango Suite” which skilfully switches between sections of moody balladry and breezy tango. “Laura’s Dream”, the standout track, is beautifully positive with a glowing warmth and lightness of touch. The guitar and sax solos are delicate and emotive, sometimes sublime. “Outro – Sunset Chasers” is another electronic track in a similar vein to the intro but a little edgier, less twee.
“Reflections” demonstrates a more confident Uglješa Novaković compared to “Tales From The Past” and this is apparent in the subtle bending of The Rules and utilisation of different musical styles, often within the same track. While I’m a little indifferent to the electronic stuff, I really do welcome the idiosyncrasies in this album. I especially enjoy the dynamic shifts in mood and tempo on the longer tracks such as “Laura’s Playing” and “Ambivalence/Belgrade Tango Suite”. If this is the typical standard of the Serbian scene, I want to hear some more.