Zel
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Zel

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When you think of a guitar centric album, most of us think of screaming guitars rather than something of an acoustic nature, but that’s what you get when you put Zel’s true on. But True is more than just an acoustic album, Zel is going to introduce you to the flamenco style of guitar.

As the first notes are played you can’t help but get caught up in the beauty of his playing, and Zel has been playing since his childhood, picking things up from the greats of many different styles of guitar, from rock’s Hendrix to flamenco’s DeLucia. Not only that, but he’s also studied flamenco with Enrique Vargas. It’s quite an accomplishment for someone who is a physician when he’s not playing guitar.

The album is produced by Zel and all the instruments are played by him. One might ask, how does a physician have time to do all of this? But when you hear the album, his time doesn’t matter, the only thing that does matter is the spellbinding music that he creates.

As each song weaves into the next you are taken to a world where melody is king and vocals no longer matter. The tone of the album is very otherworldly, even though the Spanish guitar keeps you rooted to the ground of this planet.

This is the music for the end of the day when you want to de-stress. Everything about this album is relaxing, and not in an elevator music kind of way. No. Elevator music makes you want to tune it out. This album takes you places, to hot sandy beaches where the waves come crashing in, or to a cantina in some busy city where margaritas flow freely. It may not take your troubles away but it will soothe you so that you forget about them for a time.

Listen to True and discover the passion that Zel has brought forth from his years of studying and playing guitar, and learn the sound of the melodic mood guitar which he has perfected. Zel’s Light will captivate you with his interpretation of the Alegrias, which is played with the flamenco-tremolo technique. First is a song based on an old Croatian folk song, and as it is, Croatia is the country Zel hails from. The song has a romantic melody, that will have you breaking out the wine glasses so you can stare longingly into your lover/significant other’s eyes. The spirited Pearl is played entirely by thumb. One can only marvel at the skill it must take to play something that fast paced with only one finger, and play it so well.

If instrumental music is your thing, this is an album you don’t want to miss, but even if its not, this is an album that will allow you to see guitar music in a different light. This is a worthy listen for anyone that appreciates beautiful music. Here’s hoping Zel can take time out of his busy life to share some more of his talent with us again soon. - ReviewYou.com


One of the greatest dreams for anyone is to learn to make music. And in order to make that dream a reality, many people learn to play a musical instrument. And when learning to play the instrument, several goals exist that need to be met. The first goal would be to learn how to make music on the instrument.
The next goal is to gain the ability to play well. And when those goals are met, the final goal is to take their ability to the next level and create their own style of playing; a style unlike anything else by anyone who has ever picked up that instrument.

These signature styles are what set the really good players apart from those who are average. One musician who has developed his own style of playing is Croatian-born guitarist Zelimir Vukasin (Zel for short).

Zel came to the United States to further his career. While practicing to be a doctor, Zel started to further his ability on the guitar, as well. He picked up the instrument while living is his hometown of Dubrovik, Croatia. And while his desire to develop as a doctor grew, so did his desire to develop as a guitarist. It was at this point that Zel teamed up with Spanish guitarist Enrique Vargas. Vargas helped Zel in developing his technique of playing and also taught him the styles of classical and flamenco playing.

With these styles and those from his homeland, Zel created a signature style of playing that gives the musician a sound unlike anyone else.

Once the sound was perfected, Zel went about creating a debut release. That new release is called “True”.
Having come to the United States from Europe, one might describe Zel as “the old world meets the new world”. And the same might be said of the music created by Zel. The music contained on his debut release of “True” combines the guitar styles of flamenco, classical guitar, as well as styles that exist in Croatia and the rest of Europe with some of the modern sounds and styles that are prevalent in the United States and the rest of North America. Along with the guitar, Zel also includes drum loops and several sounds that come from a musical keyboard to create a sound and style that is very fresh and unique. And while Zel’s guitar is the main focus of the music, it is his fingering style that jumps out at you when listening to the music. The flamenco and classical styles are more than evident in his playing technique.
Throughout the ten tracks on “True,” Zel not only proves that he is a good guitarist, but also a fine composer, as well. Zel wrote nine of the ten tracks contained on the album, with the only standout track of “First” being a song that was based on a folk song from Croatia. And while there are ten tracks, nine are original. The last track on the album, “Libertas,” is a faster, more upbeat version of a song that appears earlier in the album’s song tracking. The second version of “Libertas” is the stronger version of the two and makes for a fitting end to an album that gives a good indication of what this guitarist can do.

There are several guitarists’ styles that you can imagine just by hearing the name of the artist: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Dick Dale…..
And although Zel has just released his first album, it shouldn’t be long before his name is right there with the others.

But for right now, the best way to discover this up-and-coming talent is to check out his new release of “True”.
To find out more about Zelimir “Zel” Vukasin and his music, check out his website at www.zelguitar.com. You can also find him on MySpace at www.myspace.com/zelguitar. - ReviewYou.com


Zel is a doctor as well as an accomplished guitarist, and grew up in Dubrovnik, Croatia. He is quoted as saying, “I sacrifice everything for melody – there’s nothing more important and I think that’s something that’s been lost in a lot of music today.” This statement is supported again and again during the extremely melodic ten songs that make up his debut album, True.

He is also a guitarist that is strongly influenced by flamenco, and Zel oftentimes accompanies himself with little more than electronic percussion intended to sound like dancers clicking their heels or the clacking of castanets. Although his playing style is traditional, his melodic structures are more than pop enough to avoid coming off too exotic. For this reason, Zel’s acoustic playing, which is matched with familiar rhythm patterns, often brings fellow guitarist Earl Klugh to mind. Granted, Klugh fuses jazz with R&B music. However, Klugh also plays a lot of acoustic guitar, which separates his sound from so many other rock guitarists that attempt -- mostly unsuccessfully -- to disguise themselves as jazz cats.
Jimi Hendrix is also named as an influence on Zel, although it’s hard to hear much of Jimi’s sound in this particular work. Tracks, such as “Kingdom”, which sway softly like summer breezes, are far more common than the fast “Pearl”, which – had it been driven by electric guitar – might have made a fine rocker. Furthermore, it’s impossible to think of Hendrix without also considering the blues. Hendrix oftentimes ventured off into the realm of psychedelic rock, but no matter how far he roamed, he never completely left his blues roots. In Zel’s case, however, there is little to no evidence of the blues in this music. Not that that’s a bad thing. But it is what it is.
Best of all, one can pick up on a lot of joy in Zel’s playing. Just listen to the way he moves back and forth between staccato high notes and the less sharp lower tones during “Gate”. When he’s playing a melody, the listener senses Zel is riding it like a champion jockey or a skilled motorcyclist taking it as far -- and sometimes as fast – as it will go. This joyous streak strikingly contrasts with much of what passes for instrumental guitar music these days. Far too often, I’m sorry to say, these musicians treat their instruments like a skateboarder treats his skateboard: a vehicle to do tricks with, yet little else. But music was never meant merely for show-offs.

Instead, a master musician explores rhythm and melody, much like a world explorer seeks to discover new lands. And when it’s done right, the listener feels like he or she has been whisked away temporarily, joining in on the discoveries.
Without lyrics, and only song titles to go on, it’s usually awfully hard to guess what an instrumentalist intends to say with his or her compositions, but there appears to be something spiritual, or at the very least political, motivating Zel with this collection. How else can one interpret song names like “Light”, “Faithful”, “Kingdom”, and “Three Days”? Perhaps these tunes were composed while Zel was contemplating God. This is just an educated guess, however.
Nevertheless, you don’t need to dig quite so deep to appreciate True.

We may not know what or who inspired these ten compositions, but we cannot deny that they are, indeed, inspired.
When a musician plays with tangible joy, that same joy is mysteriously transferred to the listener.
With True, Zel will heap much joy upon your soul as you listen.
- ReviewYou.com


Saturday night in the cabin in the woods was, regrettably, unforgettable. There were friends. There were cards. There was a concoction consisting of three kinds of clear liquor flavored with cheap brandy. There was an agreement not to quit the game until the music stopped, which was unfortunate because there was a Springsteen box set in the five-CD changer.
Oy.
The next morning came all too quickly. Strong coffee was called for, lots of it, and music, but what music? No more Bruce, please, no, not that.

We needed something peaceful but with energy, something unobtrusive but not generic. By happenchance I played “True” by the Croatian-born, New York-based multi-instrumentalist Zel and discovered I had done a good thing. And so has Zel. It was just what the doctor ordered (Zel, by the way, is a physician).

The title track that starts the disc set the tone immediately, conferring the duel sensations of relaxation and discovery; it’s music that puts you at ease, yet refuses to simply blend into the background. The next cut, “Kingdom,” confirmed the initial impression, and so it went, from tune to tune until all the bed-headed survivors of the night before crawled into the room and asked who was playing.

It’s not everyday you experience an album of flamenco guitar. It’s the even rarer day when you hear the traditional sounds of flamenco played against surging synthesizer harmonies, with programmed beats keeping hypnotic time. But that’s what you get with Zel, and it’s a stirring combination that harkens an intriguing talent.

The cut “True” layers a melody played in the flamenco tremolo technique over a jaunty, rather pop-oriented electric piano track. The rapid picking of the guitar catches the ear and sets up the slower, swelling “Kingdom” that follows it – slower, but with just as rapid plucking. “Libertas” is the closest thing to traditional Spanish flamenco on the disc, with a drum track that sounds like rising and falling castanets.

If you ever wondered what a vintage Croatian song played flamenco style would sound like, check out “First,” a lovely melody played over haunting synthesizers; the total effect is mesmerizing.

“Pearl,” described by Zel as “a melodic interpretation of Alzapua,” is played entirely with his thumb, a performance we would surly like to see live; the same could be said for “Faithful,” a combination of flamenco tremolo and picado, a mind-bending display of dexterity that involves all five fingers of the picking hand bending and holding strings on time in two different styles. Zel must be a surgeon.
“Gate” returns to the fingerstyle technique first encountered in “Faithful,” but in a more spirited melody and faster runs on the strings. “Three Days,” with its thoughtful rests, brings an emotional counterpoint to the melody rarely experienced in the other numbers.
A reprise of “Libertas,” played at 140 beats-per-minute, closes the album on a spirited note.

When it was over, the listening party paid Zel the biggest compliment a new disc can receive.
We pushed “repeat” on the CD changer. - ReviewYou.com


Even before I hear a single note off the album True, I am intrigued by the simplicity of its cover and the bold dark colors that create my first visual impression. An illustration of a single guitar highlighted in blue and floating over a backdrop of infinite depth... I'm ready to listen.

After placing ‘True’ into my CD player and headphones over my ears I am
pleasantly surprised to hear that the first instruments are some uplifting electronic beats. I then hear some keys come in and add another rhythmic element to an already nice tune. Suddenly the sound of flamenco guitar arrives and takes control of the song by adding a sweet and steady melody. This melody, a crisp mixture of single notes and strumming, will remain constant throughout all of True as the driver and focus of these songs. Behind the guitar we hear an array of electronic beats and world percussion. The tabla sounds are my favorite on this album and effects such as delays and reverbs have been added to the percussion on some of these songs to further create a sound of timelessness and space.

All of these elements make True sound spiritual, if not entirely heavenly.

Even though the instrumentation on True is highly digitalized (despite the guitar), the whole of the songs have a very organic feel to them, which I love. I actually find it amazing how "real" this album sounds and feels despite the use of acoustic instruments. I think that it is very important to have this feeling, this organic connection. That is what makes music human and that is what puts humanity in the music, you can hear this hybrid all throughout True. Lastly, a blanket of ambience adds a comfort to the whole album and wraps these songs up nicely.
True has an overwhelmingly calm feeling all though much of the album is very face paced; a perfect combination of technique, melody and harmony. Another thing that really separates Zels ' 'True' from just another guitar album is that there is a very traditional quality and overall old world feeling to these songs and despite the excellent production and quality of this album, it is hard to imagine that this is modern music. True is an instrumental album. Like many world and classical albums, there are no vocals whatsoever.

Even though there are no lyrics and no words to guide the imagination, I have a feeling that these songs have a great story to tell. Stories of hope in worlds long past, stories of struggle and promise; it is fully up to us to interpret these stories.

This is very exciting music!

When I hear music like what Zel has assembled here, it makes me want to travel. There is so much that I haven't experienced, but with the help of True, I imagine new adventures. Zel creates a world for us by fusing the songcraft of yesterday with the modernization of instrumentation and album production. Not only did Zel write and record these songs, but he also mixed and mastered them. By the end of this album, I am in a total meditation. Music is such a natural healing force and Zel reminds us of this.

True is a sublime daydream.

This is a trip that I will take again and again...
- ReviewYou.com


Zel’s music has been echoing through my home for just over a week now. Repeating over and over again, the songs mix in and out at first in order, then random, but somehow I can bring myself to write, just everything else.
After the initial time I listened to True all the way through, I immediately went to my own musical instruments and played for hours until I collapsed into sleep, literally on top of my synthesizer headphones and all. The next time I listened to the album for a few hours in a row, this time meditating, only to go on to do some artwork. On the third run through, I attempted to write while we had company, hoping that comments about the music would be influential to the process. Instead, the music stirred an epic philosophical conversation that spanned hours. All the while, people enjoying the music of True, yet no one ever noticing a mere 10 songs were on repeat (actually 9 as Libertas is good enough to revisit at the end of the album up-tempo style) the entire time! But to the end, toes tap, and tongues loosen with the intricate melodies, core to the music that drove the conversation.
It was by this time I was realizing just why this review is so difficult to write: Zel’s True is empathetic to the listener’s real emotion, giving us honest inspiration, from his genuine love of melody, not only as a musical construct, but as a core theme for his music that extends to life.

The songs are liable to send you into a creative frenzy, just as much as they can sooth the mind, or ease the soul.
All of this without a single word spoken!
But there’s no need.

Zelimir Vukasin’s poetry is in his fingers, the meaning of the lyric is in the way each string is plucked, the rhyme of the unvoiced word is in how the flamenco balances elegantly to the pseudo-acoustic electronica, drums and strings. Every bit sounds real, like Zel has amassed a world-class percussion section and chamber of strings for your private audience. Letting the music drift out to my deck, laying in the sun, working in the garden, one can almost feel the Mediterranean breeze in the airy synths, one can hear the ocean waves crash just under where the strum of the guitar meets the rattle-click of the castanets.

This record sends one to a happy place that is energetic, yet calm.

On True you will find a sort of musical historian’s reverence for the past from a place renown for its multicultural and adventurous heritage, The Pearl of the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik, Croatia, brought in honest candor to New York with a scientist’s sense of what is modern, what is still pertinent now, no matter the age or place. The song First is a good example. Here we find Zel updating a classic Croatian folk song to a modern sense of musicality with splendid results. It is amazing to think that, here in the U.S., I may have simply never even heard it otherwise, and that would be a real shame. The problem with modernity and the race to new advances in any culture is what gets tossed to the wayside in the struggle. Thank goodness for musicians like Zel, keeping these auditory treasures, salvaging their riches for the likes of us! Another song that reaches back in time is Light, performed in what is known as an Alegrías, or a strict flamenco structure designed for traditional Spanish dancing. It is a difficult pattern to play (to say the least), the tremolo strum timing is a work of master technical instrumental skill and yet the sound is natural, the timing flawless. Even though it seems at first a stretch that Croatian folk music should translate well into Spanish flamenco, we must remember that long before the Age of Discovery, the great port cities of Cádiz in Spain and Dubrovnik in Croatia, they were close via sailing vessel. Cádiz is on the very southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, native origin of land Alegrías, and Dubrovnik is on the southern most tip of Croatia, each an ancient trade Mecca in their own rights, were at the time closer then many land based trade or travel routes to other great cities. Now with advanced travel and the internet, we all get to experience the synthesis of Zel’s lush musical history, much the same way the Mediterranean cultures met when sailing became prominent, only on a massive scale, we all now surf the world web searching for great music to mesh our own styles. Zel does not resist the future or the past, does not abide by cultural stereotypes, but embraces all, to write music in the moment. One of the arts somewhat lost on our postmodern culture is the actual meaning and power of song as a part of daily life. Most people enjoy music, but few seem to perceive the ways it moves us all, physically and metaphorically. Billions of people rely on music to help them in every imaginable occasion each moment. There are some songwriters whom hear clearly the timeless harmonies of life as they resonate through all of us. Zel is a musician firmly imbedded in a rich past, giving us looks into what the future fusion of what “music as we know it” could become. Similar to how artists like David Gray have fused together classical folk guitar with electronic rock rhythm drum machines, on the True album, Zel is taking two completely different styles (at least) and producing a fresh new sound that appeals to an older and younger generation simultaneously. Few artists have the style and grace to mend seemingly opposing elements of music into true beauty.

Perhaps, Zel is healing a part of music we didn’t know was broken.
He reminds us how reliable and essential these old styles are, and how amazing new technology can make what once seemed old, outdated, or even irrelevant –not so!- new. This music is important to art, and how we see it.

Zel makes great music for not just many occasions, but for the many phases of life and how we live them.
True is music for the soul. - ReviewYou.com


This is the music for the end of the day when you want to de-stress. Everything about this album is relaxing, and not in an elevator music kind of way. No. Elevator music makes you want to tune it out. This album takes you places, to hot sandy beaches where the waves come crashing in, or to a cantina in some busy city where margaritas flow freely. It may not take your troubles away but it will soothe you so that you forget about them for a time.

Andrea Guy (5/17/09)





Zel created a signature style of playing that gives the musician a sound unlike anyone else.

There are several guitarists’ styles that you can imagine just by hearing the name of the artist: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Dick Dale…..And although Zel has just released his first album, it shouldn’t be long before his name is right there with the others.

Matheson Kamin (5/20/09)





We may not know what or who inspired these ten compositions, but we cannot deny that they are, indeed, inspired. When a musician plays with tangible joy, that same joy is mysteriously transferred to the listener.

With True, Zel will heap much joy upon your soul as you listen.

Dan MacIntosh (5/20/09)




It’s not everyday you experience an album of flamenco guitar. It’s the even rarer day when you hear the traditional sounds of flamenco played against surging synthesizer harmonies, with programmed beats keeping hypnotic time. But that’s what you get with Zel, and it’s a stirring combination that harkens an intriguing talent.

If you ever wondered what a vintage Croatian song played flamenco style would sound like, check out “First,” a lovely melody played over haunting synthesizers; the total effect is mesmerizing.

When it was over, the listening party paid Zel the biggest compliment a new disc can receive.

We pushed “repeat” on the CD changer.

Buzz McClain (5/23/09)





All of these elements make True sound spiritual, if not entirely heavenly.

True is a sublime daydream.

This is a trip that I will take again and again...

Kenn Deaton (5/27/09)





The songs are liable to send you into a creative frenzy, just as much as they can sooth the mind, or ease the soul.

This record sends one to a happy place that is energetic, yet calm.

Zel is taking two completely different styles (at least) and producing a fresh new sound that appeals to an older and younger generation simultaneously. Few artists have the style and grace to mend seemingly opposing elements of music into true beauty.

Perhaps, Zel is healing a part of music we didn’t know was broken.

Zel makes great music for not just many occasions, but for the many phases of life and how we live them.

True is music for the soul.

Julian Gorman (5/29/09)





The delicate accuracy of his classical guitar renderings are enhanced with stylish keyboard treatments that reflect the meeting of the traditional and the modern.

It rounds out this joyful but reflective album, leaving the listener with a taste of the love of guitar music that Zel must have felt as a child.
True is a strong first offering from this talented classical guitarist.

Janie Franz (6/4/09)

- ReviewYou.com


Discography

1) Album True - to be released on 7/15/09

Photos

Bio

The music of Zel is a hypnotic and spellbinding combination of both ancient and modern sounds – the timeless sounds of flamenco guitar combined with ethereal keyboards that make it unmistakably modern. His debut album, True, is a masterful piece of work that is stunning for its virtuosity and command of both his instrument and his expression of it. It’s the music of a man who has journeyed long and far to be where he is today, and is making the most of it.

A practicing physician for years, Zel, who was born and raised in Dubrovnik, Croatia, began playing the guitar as a child. “My parents bought the guitar for my brother,” he remembers, “but I picked it up instead.” Dubrovnik is an ancient town with a rich cultural history, and Zel absorbed it all – the folk melodies passed down over the centuries, the compositions of Francisco Tarrega, as well as the sound of Jimi Hendrix and the flamenco of Paco DeLucia.

After getting his medical degree in Croatia, Zel came to the United States to do his residency, and he’s been here ever since. Despite his busy schedule as a practicing physician, Zel studied flamenco with the Spanish guitarist Enrique Vargas, which was hugely influential on Zel. He says, “A lot of my influences with technique are from flamenco, and when I studied with Enrique, it was a profound experience.”

But simply studying and becoming increasingly masterful with the guitar was not sufficient for Zel – making an album was next for him, and with that, the seed of what would become True, was planted.

Self-produced by Zel, with every instrument on the album played by him, True resonates with a spirit of discovery, of Zel communicating everything he’s learned and loves about the guitar and about music itself. Zel intended to make a statement, and indeed, the songs are a declaration of Zel’s philosophy of what to play, how to play it, and how to distinguish himself from the vast number of guitarists. “A lot of guitar records sound the same,” notices Zel. “What was important for me was to express my own sound.”

You can hear that singular sound on every song on True, from the title track, to the “melodic mood guitar” style of “Kingdom,” which showcases Zel’s emphasis on the melodic. He explains, “I sacrifice everything for melody – there’s nothing more important and I think that’s something that’s been lost in a lot of music today.” “Light” features Zel’s interpretation of Alegrias, a flamenco form and “First,” which is based on an old Croatian folk song, hearkens back to Zel’s boyhood, while adding his flamenco touches, making it completely Zel’s.

True has come into being for all the right reasons – because of Zel’s all-encompassing passion for music, and his expression of it. “This album is the logical result of my life in music. When I think about it, this album has been in the works forever.” And without a doubt, True resonates with the confidence of a man who is in possession of a special knowledge of music, and finally, one that the world gets a chance to hear for themselves.