Skopje, Macedonia is a place where many worlds meet. Since 2002, when I first lived in Skopje’s world and it became part of mine, I have been inspired by the many musicians and sounds that I’ve heard and played with in the city. I have seen musicians coming and going. They come from other parts of Macedonia, sometimes to live, sometimes just to play for a night. They leave Skopje to study and work, sometimes for years, sometimes just for a moment. Sometimes they leave for shorter interruptions to play in New York or Pristina or Zagreb or Berlin—or, in Macedonia, Bitola or Prilep or Veles. But Skopje is the place where these musical comings and goings intersect long enough for something to happen.
On the Face Place—Na Lice Mesto in Macedonian—is in person, face to face, in the same place, in the same space. On the face place happens when the comings and goings seem to pause for a moment and people are present together, maybe doing something, maybe making something. CSPS Ensemble came together as a circle of musicians recording on the face place in Skopje, with the CSPS name standing as a tribute to the cities of our birth: Chicago, Štip, Probištip, and Skopje. The comings and goings through Skopje mean that what happens on the face place is always something new and different, something of that particular moment and place. The circle turns, changes, and evolves.
CSPS Ensemble’s first iteration was at an invitation of the Society of Composers of Macedonia (SOKOM) for a jazz performance at SOKOM’s annual awards ceremony, Virtuozi, a celebration of excellence in composition and classical music performance. I was invited to put together this performance; I agreed, but only if I could gather this group of musicians. That first version of the group included guitarist Adi Imeri from Black and Vice Social Club, and there was a thread of rock running through the music. After some discussion with the composer Darija Andovska (coordinating the music for Virtuozi that year), I gathered the musicians together and arranged part of Carmina Burana for a chamber jazz ensemble with percussion instead of the usual drum set. We developed “Karma Bura,” or Karma Storm in Macedonian. Sometime that night, one of the musicians put out the idea that we compose and arrange more music for this ensemble—a project for while we were on this face place. This set the stage for the CSPS Ensemble to exist beyond a one-time convergence and On the Face Place came into being.
The bassist/composer KIRIL TUFEKČIEVSKI and I contributed compositions and arrangements for the group that leaned towards a number of jazz idioms. His “The Red Barbunya” invokes something about Charles Mingus, but also something about The Birth of the Cool in a way that allows the brilliance of KIRIL KUZMANOV (alto saxophone) to shine, as it does on every track. The guitarist BOJAN PETKOV from the throwback swing outfit Letečki Pekinezeri (Flying Pekingese) joined the circle, adding a subtlety and beauty of color to enrich the texture of the music. While this project is grounded in a deep experience with straight-ahead jazz, the traces of musical lineages and pathways with roots in a wealth of traditions within and beyond the world of jazz are apparent. The technique and mastery of TRAJČE VELKOV (trumpet) unashamedly displays chops developed not only in jazz settings but in countless hours playing in brass bands in Macedonia and all over Europe. The range and precision of RATKO DAUTOVSKI (percussion) shows more than a glimmer of his collaborations with master musicians from Macedonia and elsewhere—as near as Turkey and as distant as Latin America. As co-producer and recording and mixing engineer, ALEN HADŽI-STEFANOV seems invisible but is heard through his intimate familiarity with more recordings than I’ve ever listened to. That familiarity is evidence of a life devoted to the jazz tradition in its broadest definition, the residual resonance of years spent recording the New York downtown scene with his mobile rig in the 1990s and then running Skopje’s 24-hour jazz radio station, Jazz FM, for nearly two decades (and counting). The only CSPS member absent on this recording is tenor saxophonist IVAN IVANOV, who has performed in every live iteration of the group but, in the comings and goings of Skopje, regrettably couldn’t be on the face place during the recording process.
My own relationship with Skopje—as a musician, as an ethnomusicologist, as an ethnographer, as an academic, and as a friend—has been marked by more than its share of comings and goings. These comings and goings are full of joy, pain, sorrow, and hope, as musical and personal bonds are made, strained, severed, remade, and renewed in different forms. Like others in the CSPS Ensemble, I am both part of Skopje and not, as I come and as I go to be part of other places. Working together as the turning circle that is the CSPS Ensemble, we bring our musical traces and roots and lineages together in one gesture. This album is a slice of the many musics of Skopje, the sound of a pause amid many comings and goings, the sound when travelers meet somewhere and some time, on the face place.
Dave Wilson Wellington, New Zealand June 2017
Album artwork by Nika Gavrovska. Photograph of Ratko Dautovski by Viktor Sokolovski. All other photographs by Tatjana Rantasha. www.skydeckmusic.com