Album Review: Rale Micic’s Only Love Will Stay

Photo of Micic courtesy of his website.

Rale Micic’s latest release, Only Love Will Stay is a beautiful album that came forth from the dark days of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown. When the lockdown began in New York, Micic’s live schedule dried up quickly as all touring and live shows came to an end. “I didn’t really feel like playing at all after that,” says Micic. “But I just kept practicing.”


For a few months, with no live shows in sight, Micic succumbed to frustration and wondered what the point was anymore. Then, opportunities in streaming kick-started his desire to play once again. 

“It kind of made me go back to the instrument and explore some things I didn’t get a chance to do before,” says Micic. “You know, when you’re on the road, you’re just working on the music that you are going to play that night. But this was actually nice because I got to revisit some of the things I’ve been teaching my students and also revisit my own playing. And then I started writing music and it felt really good.”

He had already recorded three of the songs on Only Love Will Stay prior to the shutdown. Much later, he booked studio time and recorded the album’s remaining five songs. On his previous album Night Music, Micic, a Serbian guitarist, found inspiration in the music of classical Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. The inspiration he found for his latest album was a direct result of the effects of lockdown. Writing during the pandemic made him more introspective, especially because he was reading a lot of philosophy at the time. His Slavic influence can be heard on the title track, “Only Love Will Stay,” as well as on the songs “January” and “Savas.” The song “Ravas” is the name of both his father and son. 

“The whole idea behind the title of this record came from reading a lot of philosophers during the pandemic lockdown. And it was inspiring to think about the concepts of love and loss — that even if we lose somebody we love, the only thing that stays with us from that person is the love we had for them. When we have kids, we are able to transfer that love of life to the next generation. So on a tune like “Savas,” for instance, you have one generation before me and one generation after me, and there are two melodies that go hand in hand, back and forth on this tune. It’s very subtle but it addresses the idea of what’s behind us and what’s ahead of us and where we are now.”

For the first time, Micic decided to use the organ on an album. The inspiration came from listening to classical organ trios. Jared Gold handles the organ duties and creates alternate paths of music with his innovative playing, avoiding many of the jazz cliches’ typical of organ players of this genre. Micic and Gold briefly played together before when they performed at “Remembering John Abercrombie: An All-Star Tribute for his 75th Birthday” held at New York’s Birdland on January 23, 2020.

Handling partial drum duties on the album is Geoff Clapp, a fantastic player from New Orleans. He knew Micic and Gold from previous gigs and also played on the original three tracks that were  recorded for the album. His technique can be savored on the Irving Berlin classic “How Deep Is the Ocean,” where he uses his brushes to invoke the bossa nova feel of the song.

The other drummer featured is Johnathan Blake who is one of the most in-demand drummers in New York today. He played on Micic’s previous album. Blake’s interaction with the rest of the band feels like a jazz drumming tour de force. Some of his tastiest licks are heard on John Abercrombie’s “Even Steven,” which was featured on Abercrombie’s 1984 album Solar with John Scofield. 

The playing from all involved on the album is mature and focused, while remaining fresh and inventive. Micic’s love of minor keys is prevalent on the album with him saying, “That’s all in my background, the Slavic background. There’s certain things about minor keys that I love and it always shows up in my writing. It’s a leitmotif of my music, I guess.”

The collection of songs here, is both introspective and joyous and will appeal to even casual fans of jazz. The dynamics and interaction between the players is masterful and buoyant while remaining cliché free throughout. Only Love Will Stay is a beautiful album from one of jazz’s true journeyman guitarists and is worthy of repeated listenings.