"First I moved for survival," the guitarist, composer, arranger and educator explains in the liner notes to his Groove Art Records release Blue Quest, "and then it was a combination of economic and musical opportunities." He left Vojvodina at the time music beckoned to him and also to avoid being drafted into war. Within seven years, Tot has ensconced himself in Chicago’s music bed and is making a living. His second release is seasoned with inspiration from his heritage, a marvelous freedom of direction within the music and the blues.
His up-tempo version of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" opens up this ten-song release. It’s a twisty take on a traditional folk song and every note counts. Instead of a blur of notes whizzing by, each note and phrase is a meaty one. Wherever Tot, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Charles Heath venture on Blue Quest, the blues is their ultimate destination. "Prince of Belgium (for Philip Catherine)" captures Tot playing very throaty and loose, presenting his "personal voice", something he admires in the Belgian guitarist’s work. The first two minutes of the bossa nova "Gray Matter" are all Gray’s, bowing opened strings. He’s then joined by Tot and Heath in the time signature of 9/4. Even against this, the groove is very fluid. With "Wiretap This!" the Chicago trio rips it up without abandonment. Tot creates a beehive of activity with a rockish solo. Gray and Heath get their time in with both interlocked in a driving exchange of energies. Heath is a dynamic time-beater whose backed pianist McCoy Tyner, saxophonist Oliver Lake and Chi-Town vocalist Dee Alexander. "Fugue for Mr. N.P." and "Above and Within (Ron’s Song) honor two of Tot’s mentors whose spirit and dedication to teaching are personified in each composition.
From an aerial view, Zvonimir Tot’s globe-trotting may have appeared directionless. But with Blue Quest and a home base in Chicago, every move he makes seems to point to success.