Pianist Milen Kirov blends American jazz with European classical and Bulgarian folk traditions on ‘Spatium’, which will be released on June 3

“Spatium”, the new solo piano album by Milen Kirov.

There is no greater compliment than hearing that these sounds – Western classical music, American jazz and blues, and traditional Bulgarian music – seamlessly merge in my playing.

Pianist Milen Kirov finds the perfect formula with the June 3 release of “Spatium” on Independent Creative Sound and Music (ICSM) Records. A solo piano performance of 13 originals, the album is precisely the melting pot of styles that has long been at the center of multidimensional Kirov’s creative journey.

“My goal is to find the meeting point of three traditions: Western classical music, American jazz and blues and traditional Bulgarian music,” says the Bulgarian-born pianist. “For me, there is no greater compliment than hearing these sounds flow seamlessly into one another in my playing.”

So let the high compliments begin. Kirov not only finds the delicate balance he’s looking for, but does so with such ease and aplomb that the three traditions sound like they’ve always belonged together. For proof, look no further than Spatium’s opening double-take, Back to Bulgaria and Bulgarian Stride. The former combines Bulgarian folk melody and classical precision with jazz’s rhythmic nuances and improvised playfulness, while the latter blends the stride piano tradition with the detailed latticework of Eastern European music. “Thracian Blues” also encapsulates Kirov’s aesthetic, playing two pianos (one prepared and sounding like a guitar) to create down-to-earth blues lines, Bulgaria‘s distinctive odd-meter dance rhythms and bravura classical passages.

In addition, Kirov performs four Brahms-inspired ‘Intermezzos’, also infused with Bulgarian folk rhythms, jazz harmonies and improvisation. However, one of these is notated in full – as are two other tracks on the album (“Pharos” and “The Shepherd and the Mountain”). The pianist balances this with two thoroughly improvised pieces (“For Grandma” and “Time”) and shows that his mastery of the jazz tradition is on par with that of the conservatory and his homeland.

The stunning sound of the album cannot be overlooked. Now based in Los Angeles, Kirov nonetheless traveled to the central Poland city of Radom to record “Spatium” in the glorious acoustics of the Kryzstof Penderecki Concert Hall. The album’s flawless sound captures the delicacy, nuance and resonance of every note Kirov plays, enhancing the perfection of the pianist’s delicate musical balance.

Milen Kirov was born on February 6, 1977 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria into a distinguished family of musicians. His mother plays the tambura and sings; his father is a virtuoso of the gadulka, a traditional Bulgarian violin, and an accomplished musicologist. Milen was only four years old when he joined the family business, studying piano and working on ear training until the age of eight when he was able to accompany his father and friends and colleagues to the family home.

Thus anchored in traditional Bulgarian music, Milen turned to a formal classical education, graduating from both the High School of Music and the highly regarded Academy of Music, Dance, and Fine Arts in Plovdiv. Along the way, however, he discovered American music: blues, jazz, rock and pop, all of which rose to prominence in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Milen was so impressed by these idioms that he sought an American musical education.

Kirov first enrolled at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (where he received a full scholarship) and later transferred to the more experimental California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he studied with David Rosenboom and Vicki Ray and earned a BFA there a Doctor of Musical Arts and a Masters in Composition from Cal State Northridge.

Kirov was then able to carve out a niche for himself in the bustling Los Angeles music scene. In addition to his professorship at Los Angeles City College, he performs and records in a variety of contexts, including a number of film scores; classical piano pieces; his Balkan funk ensemble Orkestar MÉZÉ; and his world jazz trio Bulgarian Moonshine Co.

The pianist claims a deep connection to Milcho Leviev, a jazz great from his hometown of Plovdiv, who paved the way from Eastern Europe to Los Angeles. “I feel a strong kinship with Milcho,” says Kirov, who knew him from a young age but didn’t see him perform until Leviev returned to Bulgaria in the early 1990s. “It was like he was speaking to me and validating what I was doing. Through his playing I realized that jazz combined with Bulgarian folk and other traditional sounds could be good music and legitimate.”

Milen Kirov will perform a CD release show (solo piano) on Friday, March 6th (7:30pm and 9pm) at the Sam First Bar, Los Angeles.

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