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Leviev, Milchofree

  • Claire Levy

(b Plovdiv, 19 Dec 1937). Bulgarian composer, pianist, conductor, arranger, and bandleader. He was internationally acknowledged for his innovative ideas, cross-cultural experiments, and contribution to the concept of fusion and free improvisation. Classically trained at the Bulgarian State Conservatory (1955–60) under Pancho Vladigerov (composition) and Andrey Stoyanov (piano), he is the author of numerous compositions in styles and genres including jazz, pop, symphony, chamber, film, and theatrical music. He conducted the Radio and Television Big Band in Sofia (1962–6) and led his own avant-garde quartet, Jazz Focus’65 (1965–8), which won the Critic’s Prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967. In 1970 he left Bulgaria for political reasons and moved to the USA where he joined the Don Ellis Orchestra (1971–8), and later collaborated with the classical/jazz quartet Free Flight. He also played with outstanding jazz musicians including Art Pepper, Billy Cobham, and Dave Holland, among many others.

Leviev’s musical style is marked by a particular blend of sophistication and humour. His approach draws from a broad variety of traditions to create a unique language that outlines a few important perspectives. In the first place, he introduced Bulgarian folk tonalities and complex irregular time signatures into modern jazz – as illustrated in his 1960s compositions Studia, Blues in 9, Blues in 10, and Blues in 12. Among the impressive folk-jazz works that show the influence of Leviev, we might single out Bulgarian Bulge, arranged by Don Ellis. This is a striking piece in 33/16 based on the Bulgarian folk tune Sadovsko Horo, which, along with Leviev’s own superb arrangement of the same folk tune (with the title Bulgarian Boogie), has acquired international fame emblematic of a specific Bulgarian inflection in modern jazz. Secondly, Leviev blurred the boundaries between classical music and jazz – a tendency observed in works like Sympho-Jazz Sketches and Orpheus Rhapsody, in which expressive tools from jazz and contemporary symphonism found a common language.