Short quotes (scroll down for full-length reviews):
I know aspiring guitarists will love this book.
Jazz guitar master Larry Coryell about the book Jazz Guitar Harmony - The Melodic Approach
Mr. Tot's harmonic knowledge goes deep and is evidenced by the ease with which he plays. I can hear the jazz masters in his playing and the admiration he has for all guitarists of stature that have come before him.
The foremost jazz educator Jamey Aebersold about the book Jazz Guitar Harmony - The Melodic Approach
The debut of Tot's Stringtet, an ensemble several years in development, is a gift from a musical artist who has integrated his experiences and accomplishments in a most gratifying way – providing us passage to the state of mind where genre definitions fade as the sheer, sweet beauty of gracefully flowing sound abounds.
Howard Mandel, jazz critic and author
(...) Zvonimir Tot (is) an exceptional jazz guitarist. The fluidity of his technique, the bent-note expressiveness of his pitch and the sleekly melodic quality of his improvisations have earned him wide admiration.
Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
When he improvises, Zvonimir evidences many things, from the intensity of a conservatory virtuoso to the serene patience of a Zen guru, and always, the love of lore that characterizes griots and troubadours the world over.
Neil Tesser, Grammy award-winning jazz critic; author, Playboy Guide to Jazz
Zvonimir Tot (...) has a cool tone, a fluent style, and is a subtle improviser who hints
at a great deal of inner heat.
Scott Yanow, jazz critic and author
”Tot himself is diverse, selective and a master of the strings.”
George W. Harris, JazzWeekly.com
(Tot's) haunting reading of guitarist Luis Bonfá's masterpiece "Black Orpheus" shimmers with lyricism as his strings sparkle in the expectant silent pauses.
Hrayr Attarian, Chicago Jazz Magazine
Tot keeps one-upping himself with every disc he puts out, and Eloquent Silence is a fantastic example of just how brilliant a guitarist, writer and arranger he is.(from the CD review of "Eloquent Silence")
...Blue Quest is always grooving, from first note to last. (...) All in all, this is a spectacular disc...
Paul Abella, Chicago Jazz Magazine
Tot's compositions spin a web of musical eloquence that is both engaging and intellectually provocative. (His) virtuosic chops and strong sense of melody shine throughout.
Dr. Matthew Warnock, AllAboutJazz.com
His “Lady Agatha,” (…) has a deliberate delicacy, a ballad that unfolds at a measured pace, with Tot's playing glowing with a beautifully ethereal quality.
Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
...Tot throws out some greasy guitar licks that are simply fantastic.
Dan Bilawsky, Jazz Improv Magazine
(Z.T.) ...is an extrovert soloist who plays from the heart. He improvises with a typical Balkan singing quality, an intense feeling for the blues, rich imagination, and unbelievably fast fingers.
Jeroen de Valk, Dutch jazz critic, Het Parool, Amsterdam
...Travels and Dreams is a remarkable disc and Zvonimir Tot is someone deserving far greater recognition.
Rich Friedman, All About Jazz
Zvonimir Tot's rapid fire guitar sets the pace in this fine ensemble. His ballad style also highlights this recording with soulful elegance. (...) 4 stars.
John Gilbert, ejazznews.com
His sound is inspired by all, from Kenny Burrell to Pat Metheny but yet distinctly his own.
Marshall Vente, Jazz Institute of Chicago
Tot is an inspirational player of the guitar; (...) his largamente style feels like one big stretch.
Ferdinand Maylin, JazzNow
Such beautiful music from some scary looking guys.
Comment by a YouTube user
On the book Jazz Guitar Harmony - The Melodic Approach
"Jazz Guitar Harmony - The Melodic Approach" by Zvonimir Tot is an excellent book. Professor Tot omits any superfluous instruction and goes straight to the heart of explaining the relevant principles of harmony used in jazz. He gives in-depth explanations of important ideas, like knowing scale degrees as chord tones, for example. There is also excellent instruction in the "II-V-I" aspect of harmony, which is at the heart of all jazz vocabulary. With this book, an aspiring jazz guitarist will get a leg up early on, wending his or her way through their personal sojourn in the jazz universe. I know aspiring guitarists will love this book. Kudos to Professor Tot for such a fine publication!
Jazz guitar master Larry Coryell
Eloquent Silence Reviews:
Eloquent Silence is an introspective yet powerful album by Chicago guitar virtuoso Zvonimir Tot. The album features an all-star band including bassist Larry Gray, drummer Ernie Adams, saxophonist Mark Colby and brass specialist Orbert Davis. All of the tunes were composed and arranged by the multi-faceted guitarist and reflect Tot's diverse educational and performing background. Bouncing between hard-driving funk tunes, laid back ballads, rock-inspired grooves and Latin beats, Tot's compositions spin a web of musical eloquence that is both engaging and intellectually provocative.
Each tune on the album reflects a different side of Tot's compositional palette. While Tot is firmly based in the modern jazz tradition, he also borrows heavily from other genres including funk ("Bruce's Dilemma"), rock ("Mira's Do-Re-Mis") and bossa-nova ("Sub Rosa"). Drawing from these and other genres prevents the album from sounding like a typical guitar trio/quartet venture. With each change in mood, Tot exposes a new and exciting corner of his compositional influences. Without this textural diversity the album would not have reached the high level of creativity and musical expression that it does.
Tot is at his best through every melody, solo and accompaniment section on the album. From his playing on the title track, which moves between ECM-type melodic lines and hard-bop inspired phrases to his hard-driving, distorted guitar solo on "Mira's Do-Re-Mis," Tot's virtuosic chops and strong sense of melody shine throughout. With such a high command of the instrument Tot could have easily relied on his chops to get him through any/all of the solos on the album. Instead, he carefully interjects his lightening-fast runs between melodic phrases, which serves to enhance these technically impressive moments while not becoming too repetitive or overbearing.
Bassist Larry Gray and drummer Ernie Adams, both regulars on the Chicago jazz scene, shine on every tune. Gray's bowed bass solo on "Mira's Do-Re-Mis" is one of the CD's peaks in terms of creativity and virtuosity. Gray's fingers fly across the strings with such ease and cleanliness that the bow and his left hand sound as if they are one and the same. Adams brings a well-defined sense of groove and feel to the rhythm section that pushes each soloist to new levels of creativity. Apart from laying down some serious grooves, Adams' solos during the trading portions of "Message Received" lay right in the pocket and showcase the drummer's ability to step forward and take control of a solo when the time is right.
Eloquent Silence is an entertaining jaunt through the myriad of Tot's musical influences and favorite genres. Though it was originally released through the Chicago Session subscription service, due to the popularity of the series' releases including this one, all of the labels titles are now readily available.
Dr. Matthew Warnock, All About Jazz
Zvonimir Tot is back with another outstanding disc, this time for the upstart Chicago Sessions label. Once again, Eipers has given voice to another fantastic project, this time featuring Tot in a much larger lineup than he had previously worked with on record (at least under his own name). Eloquent Silence also finds Tot taking many more chances than he had on his previous efforts, and the results are often times quite exciting.
Most of the players here need no introduction to even the casual fans of Chicago’s jazz scene. Orbert Davis, Mark Colby, Larry Gray and Ernie Adams are all stellar talents whose combined discographies cover nearly every corner of modern jazz. And Tot is quickly gaining like-minded recognition on guitar, both for his playing, which is stellar, and his writing, which proves to be more and more interesting with each release that he puts out.
Eloquent Silence starts off on a bit of a mellow note before it gets cooking on “Bruce’s Dilemma.” The playing is amazingly solid through the first couple of tunes. But it’s on “Sarabande Blue” that things start to really take off. It’s a multi-part tune that seems like it’s going to be a beautiful ballad, a showcase for violinist Stefan Milenkovich and Tot, at first. But it slowly starts picking up steam, and after a very cool interlude by Larry Gray, the training wheels come off and the whole band gets moving. It’s an amazingly well executed song that is miles away from the AABA forms that jazz fans are used to and it makes one look forward to more collaborations between these two fantastic musicians.
The real ear opener though is “Mira’s Do-Re-Mi’s.” This reminds me at least a bit of Larry Coryell’s most rambunctious work with Gary Burton in their late sixties quartet. Even the melody seems to have a bit of Steve Swallow’s influence, but the melody is very obviously an excuse to get to an insanely cool and energetic solo that shows off all of Tot’s facilities with a guitar.
There’s no really going up from the heights that “Mira’s Do-Re-Mi’s” climbs to, so the obvious choice next is a ballad, and Tot wrote a phenomenal one. “Jurre” is a feature for Tot and Mark Colby. Colby, as always, never disappoints. He turns in a great solo here, and it’s a beautiful moment on the CD.
Both “Hidden Truths” and “Message Received” offer the listener a chance to hear Tot and company in much more down-to-earth settings. “Message Received” is especially welcome, with its mid-tempo swing, and plenty of space for both Orbert Davis and Mark Colby to stretch out and show off on. “Hidden Truths” is more modern in its conception and features Tot with Gray and Adams, with Gray getting a healthy solo that doesn’t drag down the momentum even one iota.
While one could go through every track here with a fine-tooth comb–and there would be plenty to write about every track––it would simply be a rehash of, Zvonimir Tot sure sounds awesome. He’s simply a fantastic guitarist who has surrounded himself with some of the most sympathetic support anyone could ask for anywhere. Tot keeps one-upping himself with every disc he puts out, and Eloquent Silence is a fantastic example of just how brilliant a guitarist, writer and arranger he is.
Paul Abella, Chicago Jazz Magazine
Unspoken Desire Review:
Here's an interesting concept for a disc: take a guitarist known for being able to shred on a guitar, and put him in an all-acoustic setting, and pair him with either Paulinho Garcia or Larry Gray (but oddly enough, never all three of them together), and let the tape roll.
The results are beautiful, to say the least. Paulinho Garcia is an outstanding guitarist and vocalist who elevates everything he plays to an entirely new level. Larry Gray is a legendary bass player in Chicago with good reason. And Zvonimir's technique is beyond reproach. This is the sound of a master duetting with two other masters of their respective instruments. While a CD of mostly ballads can easily slide into the background in the wrong hands, here, every note is worth hanging onto. The way that Zvonimir interacts with these guys on various songs is nothing short of impressive.
If there's one word you could use to describe virtually every song on here, it's familiar. Certain spots sound uncannily like songs you’ve heard before. In other places, your mind rattles, wondering where you've heard this before. Finally, after listening to this disc a few times, I came to the conclusion that, at the very least, the tracks with Larry Gray sound remarkably akin to the work that Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden did on Beyond the Missouri Sky—certainly some great company to be in. That "Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso" is played on both discs in very similar arrangements bolsters the comparison. As expected, the songs with Paulinho Garcia take on more of his character—he is such an enigmatic presence that players even of Tot's magnitude are pulled in his direction. But still, that familiarity shines through, making this CD the audio equivalent of that always-comfortable favorite pair of jeans.
The disc starts off with Tot and Garcia squaring off on a song called "March 3rd." When they kick it into gear, both men are clearly discernable. Tot's surging lines and Garcia’s rhythm guitar make for a potent pairing that is as fantastic an opening to an album as you’ll find anywhere. "Devojko Mala" is a beautiful tune, retrofitted to become a bossa nova. This one had me running to the piano to play "Besame Mucho" to make sure they weren't the same tune. They're not. But there’s a definite similarity, and once again, it strikes at the heart of the familiarity that runs through the entire disc. Paulinho also adds his vocals to a few songs on here, the most notable being a gorgeous version of "Estate."
Larry Gray's contributions to this disc are notable as well. "How Deep is the Ocean" is a great example of just how tasteful Gray is. He plays in half-time here, allowing him to interact with Zvonimir, and the interplay between them is exceptional. Their lines weave around each other, and multiple listens are rewarded, as you discover all of the twists and turns between these two.
This disc is what we're told jazz is supposed to be, but is so seldom achieved: players interacting, and making every song and every note theirs and theirs alone. If you're looking for a mellow disc to put on with the candles burning and the shades drawn, you can’t go wrong here. But don’t be shocked if you turn your head during one of Zvonimir’s solos and scream, "Man, that's hip!" Because, trust me, you will.
Paul Abella, Chicago Jazz Magazine
Blue Quest Reviews:
Zvonimir Tot's path to jazz is a story that is almost as intriguing as the music he presents with his trio on Blue Quest. Tot is a native of Vojvodina, "the northern province of Serbia", and he left his home in 1990 to avoid the draft. Luckily, he managed to steer clear of what would become Europe's bloodiest sectarian conflict of the decade. Tot traveled to Budapest, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in jazz guitar and music education from the Franz Liszt Academy of Musical Arts. He then earned another Bachelor's degree in jazz performance from the Amsterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands. Following that, he ended up in Hannover, Germany. Tot's travels eventually brought him to America, in 2000, and he brings his varied life experiences to his music. Blue Quest begins with a funky up-tempo workout on "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." Bassist Larry Gray and drummer Charles Heath lay down some tight funk patterns underneath Tot's tightly focused guitar lines. From the get-go, Tot demonstrates his crystal clear, clean and precise phrasing during his solo on this track. While this arrangement disowns the breezy nature and tempo that is so often used for this hymn, the spirit and essence of the melody remains intact. Following Gray's solo, the opener comes to an end when Heath turns in some solid drum soloing over a vamp. "Dear Maestro (For Morricone)" is Tot's tribute to the work of Ennio Morricone. Neil Tesser's liner notes hit the nail on the head when he uses "simple (though not simplistic)" to describe the result of the diatonic nature in Morricone's compositions. This is a gorgeous piece of music with some interesting harmonic shades and Tot's solo is one of his most soulful on the album . Heath, with brushes in hand(s), paints wonderful lines beneath Tot and Gray. The title track is a swaggering, hip, bluesy stroll through Tot's musical mind. While the clean and crisp tone, attack and general feel of his guitar-work remains in place, a certain amount of grit does come through on this tune. Whether soloing or just staying in the pocket with his groove, Charles Heath's drumming on "Groove Me Wah" is both, fierce and funky. Gray, who contributes some electrifying solo work here, is on the same musical page as Heath from start to finish. "Lady Agatha," Tot's musical nod to Agatha Christie, is slightly ambiguous in nature and despite the fact that it's well played, is not the most memorable of tunes. Tot wrote "Prince of Belgium (for Philip Catherine)" to honor the Belgian guitarist and this mid-tempo musical affair shows Tot at his raunchiest. Heath lays down a nice groove in three and Tot throws out some greasy guitar licks that are simply fantastic. "Gray Matter" begins with a bass solo that acts as a showcase for Gray's arco playing. When the band enters, about two minutes into the piece, Gray's bowed bass remains the melodic focus as Tot and Heath coast beneath him. This piece is a bossa nova in nine [9/4 time] that gently glides through the speakers. Gray's tone, which is never too thin or fat, and intonation help to make this such a great performance. "Wiretap This!" is a 24 bar blues which features Tot's edgiest guitar sound on the album. One of the highlights of this track is the dialogue between Tot and Heath. The guitarist shreds his way through the tune and Heath ably comps underneath with a strong, swing feel. "Fugue for N.P." is dedicated to Nikola Petin, one of Tot's teachers, and the piece begins with a stately theme that gives Tot a chance to show off the more classically oriented side of his musical persona. The influence of baroque music, in addition to jazz and a hint of gypsy music, can be felt on this piece. "Above and Within (Ron's song)" is anchored by a slow, militaristic drum cadence at the outset of the piece. Gray's bass, sounding remarkably large here, creates a layer of sound for Tot to build on. This dreamy composition closes out a highly enjoyable album of well-performed originals from Zvonimir Tot and his musical partners.
Dan Bilawsky, Jazz Improv Magazine
Serbian-born, Chicago-based guitarist Zvonimir Tot opens up his second CD as a leader, Blue Quest, with the old American church hymn, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” There's reverence in the sound, but it's not a tranquil or meditative approach. Tot and his trio—which includes bassist Larry Gray and drummer Charles Heath—soup the tune up considerably. It sounds as if that dude with whom they are walking is a pretty hip guy, and is not in anyway averse to getting deep into the groove.
The group has a beefy, hard-driving edge, with lots of unabashed extroversion. Tot’s distinctive approach and tone—single notes and harmonies—rings with a juiced up reverberance.
The title tune is a slow, muscular, groove, a bluesy sound tinted with some gypsy colors; and “Groove Me Wah” has a South Side of Chicago feeling, with Tot's solos brimming with batches of sharp, succinct notes.
With the exception of the church hymn opening number, all of the compositions on Blue Quest are from Tot's pen. His “Lady Agatha,” for the British mystery writer Agatha Christie, has a deliberate delicacy, a ballad that unfolds at a measured pace, with Tot's playing glowing with a beautifully ethereal quality. “Prince of Belgium” is dedicated to Philip Catherine, a guitarist with a distinct European sound. Tot's dedication has a more American, rock music quality. “Wiretap This” features an ominous bass line and some of Tot's most fiery playing.
The set's second tune, “Dear Maestro,” for the Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, feels like a misstep. It has some background string sounds—synthesizers is the guess—and is a pretty piece of work, but it breaks the grooving, sometimes gritty mood of the disc, and might have been better placed at the end of the show.
Blue Quest is a very fine introduction to a new guitarist on the jazz scene.
Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
Of all of the monster talents that Chicago can boast, one of the more recent ones is Zvonimir Tot. Zvonimir's not only a fantastic guitarist, but he's also a teacher around town as well, spreading his formidable knowledge to new generations of jazz players throughout the Chicago area. If you've heard the name, but haven't yet had a chance to hear the man, Blue Quest is a perfect place to start. Tot's guitar is up front and personal on Blue Quest, just as it should be. His tone is reminiscent of Scofield, albeit with fingers that fly faster than Sco's. His flourishes and runs remind me more than a little bit of fellow Chicagoan Fareed Haque. Put all of that together with a rock solid time feel, and you've got all of the ingredients together for a heady sound that grooves solidly from beginning to end. And the focus is most certainly on grooving throughout the course of Blue Quest. That groove may take on different forms, whether its fat and funky, as is the case on "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" or "Groove Me Wah", or if its a little more subtle, as is the case on "Prince of Belgium", but Blue Quest is always grooving, from first note to last. The three ballads on Blue Quest are all top notch as well. "Dear Maestro", especially, deserves special notice for the beautiful tone Tot gets, as well as the interplay between Tot and the always tasteful Larry Gray. All in all, this is a spectacular disc which will hopefully win Zvonimir Tot a lot of fans throughout Chicago and beyond.
Paul Abella, Chicago Jazz Magazine
Travels and Dreams and Other Reviews:
On his stunning new CD, Travels and Dreams, guitarist Zvonimir Tot successfully blends the passion of his eastern European roots with his unique journeys into contemporary American jazz. Backed by the great team of trumpeter Art Davis, bassist Nick Tountas and drummer Rusty Jones, Zvonimir showcases his dazzling technique and soulful heart on an eclectic array of dynamic and appealing originals.
Zvonimir Tot is the hot new voice in the world of jazz guitar virtuosos.
Judy Roberts, Chicago Jazz Magazine
Zvonimir Tot's rapid fire guitar sets the pace in this fine ensemble. His ballad style also highlights this recording with soulful elegance.
"Jungle Walk" is a fast paced tune showing Tot's dexterity along with a fine trumpet solo by Art Davis. Ideas run rampant in the exchanges, making for a most interesting listen.It is apparent that Rusty Jones is a seasoned drummer with impeccable taste as he guides the rhythm without going into overdrive.
"Pamela's Song"..Pamela is a fortunate lass to have this lovely tune dedicated to her. A solid ballad featuring trumpeter Davis's thoughtful solo.
Maybe the centerpiece of this album is "Who Shot The Guitarist" This song has a boppish feel with the blues underscoring matters. Art Davis 'gets after it' with a swinging soliloquy and Tot ambles along gracefully with a fine message of his own. Rusty Jones again demonstrates his skill as an in the pocket drummer. The four bar shots with Jones are a conversation that goes right to the heart of hip.
This is another fine addition for the jazz lovers of the world to add to their collection... 4 Stars
John Gilbert, ejazznews.com
What makes jazz so vibrant is its sponge-like ability to incorporate different styles and cultural perspectives. On Travels and Dreams guitarist and composer Zvonimir Tot, who now calls Chicago home, skillfully mines his Eastern European roots and virtuoso technique to produce an especially appealing mix of ballads, bop, funk, bossa nova and bluesy originals. A team of trumpeter Art Davis, bassist Nick Tountas, and Rusty Jones, on drums, the quartet delivers tunes that are skillfully composed, packed solid with rich imagination, and most importantly, a delight to hear. Take, for example, “Song for my Mother (Pesma Za Moju Majku),” a melodic duo on which Tot and Tountas trade relaxed solos. Another outstanding ballad, “The Rainbow Bridge,” in 3/4 time, showcases the solo talent of all the quartet’s members. The pace picks up substantially on “King’s Ransom,” a burner featuring Zvonimor’s dynamic chord changes and devilishly quick single-note vamps. On “A Sketch for Libby,” a short three-minute tune, Zvonimir, finds a way to include a variety of styles: gypsy folk music, American blues, and a small touch of flamenco. Because of his eclectic style it’s impossible to compare Zvonimir to other great jazz guitarist such as Joe Pass, Jesse van Ruller, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joshua Breakstone, or Pat Metheny. Suffice it to say that Travels and Dreams is a remarkable disc and Zvonimir Tot is someone deserving far greater recognition.
Rich Friedman, All About Jazz
Travels and Dreams
Zvonimir Tot, guitar; Art Davis, trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Tountas, bass; Rusty Jones, drums; guests, Steven Hashimoto, electric bass; Bryan Nichols, keyboards
Zvonimir Tot offers us some interesting sounds and styles with this new CD; all songs were composed and arranged by him, with the exception of the traditional "Voda Zvira", which he arranged. A good set of musicians line up to play with him; the cool, electric trumpet playing of Art Davis is most noticeably to the fore; he possesses a pure straight tone that would enhance any set of tunes. Tot is an inspirational player of the guitar; one would never guess his eastern European roots; he is a physically large man, and can be an expansive player, an example of this is "Magician's Kingdom", his largamente style feels like one big stretch. "Pamela's Song", is a delightful ballad played sensitively on the flugelhorn by Art Davis, a player who has no side to him; his sound goes straight to the heart. The tunes move through fusion, funk, bossa nova, swing, ballads and a touch of bop. In "A Sketch For Libby" Tot plays solo guitar and proves what a fine player he is. The two front men have just the right support from the bass of Nick Tountas and the drums of Rusty Jones. A CD with plenty to offer.
Ferdinand Maylin, JazzNow
…Tot is not only an able craftsman, but a musical personality. …(Z. T.), with the looks of a young Demis Roussos, is an extrovert soloist who plays from the heart. He improvises with a typical Balkan singing quality, an intense feeling for the blues, rich imagination, and unbelievably fast fingers.
Jeroen de Valk, Dutch jazz critic
Het Parool, Amsterdam