Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company-Riva.

Label: One Trick Dog Records.

It was Astrid Kuljanic’s love of jazz that resulted in her leaving her home on the beautiful island of Cres, which is a natural paradise surrounded by the deep blue Adriatic Sea. However, a new life and the opportunity of a lifetime awaited Astrid Kuljanic in the Big Apple. Somewhat reluctantly, she made the journey to New York, to study at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, where a new life awaited the composer, arranger and vocalist Astrid Kuljanic who since graduating with a Master of Music in Jazz Performance has established a reputation for her versatility, and ability to create complex yet subtle, elegant and eclectic music. 

Eclectic certainly describes the music on the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company’s debut album Riva, which will be released by One Trick Dog Records on the ‘10th’ of November 2017. It features jazz standards, Brazilian samba, bossa nova and traditional songs from the Island of Cres. Riva is the next part in Astrid Kuljanic’s journey that began back in Yugoslavia.

Astrid Kuljanic was born and grew up in Rijeka, which was then part of the former Yugoslavia. As a child, she listened to her family sing and play music. At first, Astrid Kuljanic was content to watch and listen to the music, until her older sister encouraged her to sing. 

By then, the sisters were immersed in music which ranged from Italian pop to American rock and Yugoslav hits of the day. After some encouragement from her sister, Astrid Kuljanic began to sing and soon, was embracing the music that could be heard throughout the deepwater port of Rijeka. 

It was the biggest port in Yugoslavia, and sailors from all over the world stopped off in Rijeka, and some brought with them music from their home country. Similarly, some of the local sailors returned from their travels with music from other parts of the world. This was the case the world over, not just in Rijeka. The influx of new music was welcomed by music lovers, including Astrid Kuljanic, who had already embarked upon a lifelong love affair with music.

Astrid Kuljanic explains: “It’s an exploration. I love exploring my roots and I love learning about other music. You can take inspiration from all sorts of places and over time, it becomes part of you.” That was certainly the case with Astrid Kuljanic, and music played a huge part in her life.

Especially when Astrid Kuljanic became an adult and returned to Cres, the island where her parents were born and brought up. This unsurprisingly holds special place in her heart, and Astrid Kuljanic fondly remembers the time she has spent in Cres. Especially a certain sheltered cove that protects a small pier. That is part of Cres that Astrid Kuljanic considers her own: “I have my spot there, at least, I consider it my spot!” she says jokingly.

It’s no surprise as it’s where both Astrid Kuljanic’s parents were born in Cres, the island where the tides of Croatia and Italy unite. While tourists who stand astounded at the abundance of beauty in this Croatian paradise, Astrid Kuljanic is used to thus beautiful, exotic backdrop and refers to the sound of the waves breaking in the background as: “our music.” However, this isn’t the only music that has been heard on Cres. 

Not long after Astrid Kuljanic started speeding time on Cres, she decided that she wanted to give something back to the island. Her idea was Cres’ very first jazz festival, which she hoped would help the islanders come together. This proved to be the case, with musicians, artists and artisans on the island coming together at Cres’ inaugural jazz festival. Ten years later, and the Crescendo Music Festival is still going strong. However, one of the artisans Astrid Kuljanic met was Vesna Jakic, would later design the dress she wears on Riva. 

The other event that happened during the jazz festival was a family gathering where Astrid Kuljanic and her portents, aunt and cousin sat round the kitchen table and sang. As Astrid Kuljanic listened, she was amazed at the sheer variety of language, scales and types of music. One of the songs that Astrid Kuljanic heard that night was Oj vi mlade which features on Riva, and was arranged with a reggae sway for the album. However, Astrid Kuljanic can remember the night she heard her relatives singing Oj vi mlade: “this is what we used to sing! This is it, this is ours!’ Yet the songs were all so different and so mixed. Their island identity is strong, but they embrace other influences as their own.”

It wasn’t just Cres that had embraced other influences and taken them as their own. So had Astrid Kuljanic who by then, had already spent time in several countries. She had studied to become a chemical engineer in Zagreb, but on leaving college, decided to embark upon a musical career. Astrid Kuljanic started bands with friends in Zagreb, and soon, was a familiar face on the local music scene. One of the bands, Astrid Kuljanic founded was Mildreds, a folk band who released two albums. Despite getting this far, Astrid Kuljanic felt her lack of formal musical education was holding her back musically.

Eventually, Astrid Kuljanic decided to enrol at the Trieste Conservatory, in Italy, which was the nearest music school that offered courses in jazz.  This was the start of Astrid Kuljanic’s musical education, which continued at the Manhattan School of Music.

At the Manhattan School of Music, Astrid Kuljanic enrolled in its Jazz Performance course. Later, she graduated with a Master of Music in Jazz Performance. Before that, Astrid Kuljanic studied Brazilian music and percussion with Professor Rogerio Boccato who is a master percussionist. He made a big impression on Astrid  Kuljanic: “I finally worked up the nerve to ask him to play with me for my final recital. We had such a great time, we’ve collaborated ever since.”  Later, when  Astrid Kuljanic began putting together her new band,  she asked Rogerio Boccato to become part of the quartet.

Having graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, and  living in New York, Astrid Kuljanic continued to embrace jazz which was one of the foundations for her own music. Astrid Kuljanic explains: “One of the things that brought me into jazz is the freedom, the improvisation. Beyond that, it’s hard for me to figure out what my favourite style of music is. I’ve always loved rock and pop. I fell for folk. I love beautiful ballads and crazy fast pieces. You can hear it on this album, which has different energy from song to song.” 

Before Astrid Kuljanic could record Riva, she had to put together her own band. It would become the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company, which was her unique take on a jazz trio, which usually would feature a drummer, bassist and pianist.  However, Astrid Kuljanic had other ideas and set about bringing some of her closest musical friends in the New York music scene onboard the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company.

Astrid Kuljanic first port of call was bassist Mat Muntz, who she has worked with on an Ableton Live powered electronic set that later metamorphosed into an acoustic project for the duo. They’re reunited on the captivating conversation this is Charles Mingus’ Portrait plus the cover of Wild is the Wind and the live version of The Very Thought of You which is a bonus track on Riva.

The second member of the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company was master percussionist Professor Rogerio Boccato. He plays a starring role on Edu Lobo’s Upa Neguinho, and then helps power the propulsive groove to Divojčice Rožice along. It’s a song from island of Cres, which Astrid Kuljanic hopes to bring to a wider audience.

Helping Astrid Kuljanic to do that, is the third and final member of the trio. Usually, this would be a pianist, but Astrid Kuljanic had decided to break with tradition and after thinking laterally, replaced the pianist with accordionist Benjamin Rosenblum. He was another of Astrid Kuljanic’s friends and someone she had played alongside on a number of occasions. Benjamin Rosenblum became the final member of the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company.

With the lineup of the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company finalised, the band started playing together live. Sometimes, its leader shuffled the pack, and it was a different lineup that took to the stage. This kept the band on its toes and ensured that there was an energy, immediacy and spontaneity to its organic sound. There was one thing that Astrid Kuljanic didn’t want; “I didn’t want things too polished. These are song we play all the time,” and she didn’t want to lose the immediacy and spontaneity. It didn’t matter to Astrid Kuljanic that there were a few rough edges, as long as she kept the music retained its organic sound.

When the time came to record Riva, which translates as Pier, the four members of the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company headed to the Avidon Audio Labs in New York. In the sweltering heat of the Big Apple, the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company entered the studio and were about to follow in the footsteps of countless jazz greats, who recorded an album within a day. This was a huge challenge for the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company who had eight eclectic tracks to record.

This included two traditional Croatian songs from Cres, including the ballad heart wrenching Oj VI Mlade which sways along opening Riva. Later, Divojčice Rožice which features a percussion masterclass from Rogerio Boccato as bossa nova and samba meets jazz and Croatian traditional music as the trio rework this song from Cres. Meanwhile, Astrid Kuljanic shows her versatility as once again, she breaths life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. The addition of the accordion is a masterstroke, not only bringing the songs together but adding authenticity. Astrid Kuljanic wrote Show Me which is the perfect showcase for her vocal, as it soars above the arrangement which is propelled along by the accordion. 

Quite different is the cover of Charles Mingus’ Portrait, where the tempo drops and a subtle bass accompanies Astrid Kuljanic’s tender, rueful and ruminative vocal on emotive reading of a jazz classic. Another ballad is Kamo Je Fini Ov Dan which Astrid Kuljanic wrote with Nikola Kraljic. She delivers a vocal that veers between tender to powerful and emotive against a backdrop of accordion, percussion and later, bass.  When her vocal drops out, the talented trio showcase their skill and versatility, before Astrid Kuljanic returns and plays a starring role. 

It’s a similar case on Edu Lobo’s Upa Neguinho, where the tempo rises percussionist Rogerio Boccato plays a starring role alongside Astrid Kuljanic’s vocal. Again the accordion helps power the arrangement along, while propulsive percussion accompanies Astrid Kuljanic’s vocal as it soars elegantly and joyously above the arrangement, adding to the irresistible sunshine sound. 

Astrid Kuljanic is without doubt, a versatile singer and proof of that are the last two tracks on the album. This includes her understated cover of Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s standard Wild Is The Wind. Straight away, the tempo drops and a lone bass accompanies Astrid Kuljanic’s soul-baring vocal as she showcases her skill as a jazz vocalist. It’s a similar case as she covers Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli’s A Night In Tunisia which closes Riva. Astrid Kuljanic improvises and scats, as jazz meets bossa nova as the arrangement meanders along closing the album on a high. Incredibly,the eight tracks that became Riva were recorded within the one day.

Although Riva was complete, a decision was made to include a cover of the Ray Noble’s standard The Very Thought Of You as a bonus track. It was recorded by the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company at the Scholes Street Studio during September 2016. The trio provided an understated jazzy backdrop for Astrid Kuljanic’s heartfelt, ethereal vocal. It’s a very welcome addition to the album, and the perfect way for the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company to take a bow on Riva.

For Astrid Kuljanic, the hope is that Riva will find an audience and cross the boundaries. That should be the case on an album where jazz, bossa nova and samba all feature. However, Astrid Kuljanic is well aware that on three of the tracks she’s trying to introduce Croatian traditional music to a non-Croatian audience. However, this is fitting and symbolic, and is a reminder of Astrid Kuljanic’s journey that began in Rijeka before heading to Cres, Trieste and finally New York. “Everything about this band and album represents the symbolic path I’ve taken from Croatia to New York, to explore the music of the world while staying connected to the place from which I embarked. I know every stone, tree, and shell in that bay. That the destination of this journey will be Carnegie Hall is something I never dreamed possible when I was leaving Croatia. It’s such an honour to get to share Cres’ treasures, Croatian culture, and the many other sounds I’ve made my own along the way.” 

During this journey, Astrid Kuljanic has played alongside world-class musicians, including Theo Bleckman, Gretchen Parlato and Kate McGarry, and regularly tours Europe and America, where she’s played at some of the most prestigious venus. Astrid Kuljanic’s travels have also taken her to China, where she played at the JZ Jazz Club in Hangzhou. Just like every time Astrid Kuljanic takes to the stage, the audience witness a truly talented and versatile composer, arranger and vocalist. 

Despite Astrid Kuljanic busy schedule, she still  returns home each year to curate the Crescendo Jazz Festival on the island of Cres. It’s now into its tenth year, and has gone from strength-to-strength thanks to its founder Astrid Kuljanic, whose life revolves around music.

So much so, that Astrid Kuljanic’s thirst for musical knowledge has seen her study Brazilian  percussion and Indian classical music in the past. Astrid Kuljanic has also experimented with electronic music, and played live with Mat Muntz who is now the bassist in the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company and played on its debut album Riva.

In a week’s time, the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company will release their debut album Riva, on One Trick Dog Records. Riva is an accomplished debut album from the multitalented Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company. Their music is full of energy and immediacy as the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company play with spontaneity that results in its genre-melting organic sound.

Riva is also a truly eclectic album that features eight tracks where the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company flit between jazz standards to Brazilian samba and bossa nova, to traditional Croatian songs from island paradise of Cres. Seamlessly, the versatile and talented Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company switch between Caribbean and Brazilian beats and also soul-baring ballads and joyous uptempo romps. Regardless of whichever genre of music the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company is playing on their debut album Riva, they play with energy, immediacy and spontaneity on album where the music is beautiful, joyous, ruminative and uplifting. 

Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company-Riva.

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