New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: greek music

A Hotrod of a Band Headlines This Year’s Greek Jewish Festival

More about today’s annual Greek Jewish Festival at the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum at 280 Broome St. in Chinatown: the headliners, Pontic Firebird, hit the stage at 5 PM. Not only do they have one of the coolest bandnames ever, they’re also a party in a box. They play a wildly adrenalizing mix of traditional Greek Mediterranean dance tunes that sometimes echo the eerie chromatics of rembetiko gangster music, and the Smyrnika sounds that permeated the underworld in that part of the globe in the decades after World War I.

This blog most recently caught Pontic Firebird in action at the 2018 edition of Golden Fest, which for years has been arguably the most exciting annual concert in New York (the 2020 edition took place as usual. that January; there was also an abbreviated, outdoor 2021 edition, but none so far this year). You can download the band’s 2018 set there at the recently and unexpectedly restored Free Music Archive, as well as a longer show from four years earlier. Let’s give that one a spin, shall we?

Frontwoman/violinist Beth Bahia Cohen first leads the group through a raw, rustic, trickily rhythmic dance that veers from minor to major and back and sounds more like Greek hill country music than it does Mediterranean. The group members aren’t listed, but there’s also oud, boomy standup drums and bass in the mix.

Oud and violin double the melody line over pouncing syncopation in the next number, followed by a hypnotically loopy one where Cohen goes flying into some spine-tingling spirals when least expected. The fourth track starts starkly and auspiciously and suddenly cuts off – hey, it’s a field recording, that happens sometimes. The group wind up the set – or at least what’s here – with their edgiest, most chromatically bristling number.

The rest of the bands on today’s bill are also excellent. If you can get out of the house early enough, you can catch the whole lineup, which starts at noon with the bouncy Elias Ladino Ensemble, followed by the Greek American Folklore Society band, the Noga Group featuring brilliant oudist Avram Pengas, bellydancer Layla Isis and then psychedelic Middle Eastern oud player and bandleader Scott Wilson & Efendi at 4. Take the B or D to Grand St.

Slinky, Metaphorically Loaded, Ecstatic Psychedelia From the Isle of Cyprus

In the depths of the lockdown in his native Cyprus earlier this year, Monsieur Doumani frontman and tzouras lute player Antonis Antoniou persevered, became a one-man band and put out a serpentine, hypnotic solo album. Good news: his main band is back together, and has an ecstatically nocturnal new release, Pissourin streaming at Bandcamp.

This time out the group have switched guitarists, longtime touring member Andys Skordis replacing Angelos Ionas. Demetris Yiasemides returns on trombone, further enhancing the surreal atmosphere. The result is arguably the most enveloping and richly textured record of an already psychedelic career.

The opening number, Tiritichtas is a characteristically undulating, loopy, rembetiko-inspired chromatic theme with half-whispered lyrics about a trickster archetype. Antoniou sings Giorgos Vlamis’ aphoristic lyrics in Greek:

Smile at the emerging shadow
The light gets in if it finds a crack
Break down the clock, enough
Count the minutes with your heart

The rhythms get trickier in Poúlia (Pleiades), trombone serving as bass under the glittering interweave of gritty guitar and icy, oscillating tzouras textures: the trick ending is irresistibly funny. Anchored by a tasty minor-key guitar/tzouras interweave, Kalikandjari is a launching pad for lyricist Marios Epaminondas’s Dionysan tableau: only a crazed joie de vivre can save us at this point.

The group keep the nocturnal elixirs flowing in Koukkoufkiaos (The Owl), its Balkan tinges fueled by the sputtering trombone. They straighten out that pouncing beat a little for the album’s title track (rough translation: Heart of the Night), slinky tzouras climbing to shivery peaks over an increasingly frenetic backdrop.

Martha Frintzila takes over the mic, adding subtle enticement to Thamata (Miracles), Antoniou’s tzouras rippling over the bubble of the trombone. It’s the album’s most epically psychedelic track.

Alavrostishiotis (Sprite) seems to be a New Orleans spirit at heart, Skordis’ keening slide guitar multitracks over a blippy, loopy fourth line of a pulse. Nichtopapparos (Night Bat) is a sinister tale, both the trickiest and most hypnotic number here. The band wind up the album with Astrahan, a bracing, edgy account of menacing mermaid seduction. What a thrill, all the way through. This may be a year that’s been starved for psychedelic sounds, but this is one of the best records of 2021.

A Poignant, Broodingly Gorgeous Greek Psychedelic Album From Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis

You could make the argument that Greece has had a psychedelic music scene since the 1920s, when waves of refugees and exiles from Smyrna and Turkey brought their Middle Eastern-flavored hash-smoking songs with them. So it’s no surprise that psychedelic rock became a big thing there forty years later. Singer Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis’ 2016 album NYN – streaming at Spotify – looks back to that era, with tastefully bulked-up 21st century production values.

The opening track, Ethertai Haimonas (Winter Is Coming) has a muted, wistful As Tears Go By vibe, set to a 90s trip-hop beat with layers of keys. The second track, Ouden Oida (I Know Nothing) is a gorgeously bristling, minor-key blend of brooding 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk and chiming bouzouki janglerock.

The hypnotically droning, chromatically biting, syncopated Strati Strati (Step by Step) vividly echoes the dusky rembetiko sound from a hundred years ago, complete with a moody sax solo. Stassinopoulou’s poignantly misty mezzo-soprano takes centerstage in Gia Mia Stigmi (For a Moment), an unselfconsciously beautiful, swaying ballad with layers of clanging, ringing guitar and bouzouki.

They interrupt the pervasive melancholy for Mystic Rap, a whispery trip-hop number and then pick up the pace with Par Me Agea (Take Me, Wind), a starkly dancing, distantly Egyptian-tinged piano tune awash in trippy samples. The album’s most straight-up rock tune is the steady, darkly insistent Ah Athanate (Oh, You Century), bagpipes and backward-masked snippets fluttering in the background.

Nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and swooping electric slide work contrast in the pensive Allarokania (Change in the Weather). Stassinopoulou sings the haunting rembetiko-tinged Sabah Tuo Erota, a love song, with an understated, melismatic, microtonal angst. While it’s understandable that the band would want to do something to beef up the hypnotic one-chord jam Kyma To Kyma (Wave After Wave), loopy trip-hop is definitely not the answer.

Thela Na Mouna Nero (I Wish I Was Water) is the album’s sparest number, just gongs, chimes, vocals and clattering percussion. The title track is a mashup of loops, a minor-key bouzouki riff and swoopy P-Funk keyboards. They break out the distorted electric guitar to close the record with the trickily dancing Ola Pane Ki Erhondai (Everything Comes and Goes). What a delicious rediscovery.

Energetic, Cinematic Grooves From the Reliably Uncategorizable Manteca

Manteca play a deliciously uncategorizable blend of cinematic instrumental jamband rock, with tinges of Balkan and Middle Eastern music. They’ve been around in one incarnation or another since the late 70s and are legends in their native Canada. Beyond a single clave soul song, there isn’t much of a latin influence on their latest album The Twelfth of Never, streaming at Spotify. It’s one of the most intriguingly unique records to come over the transom here in the last six months.

Nick Tateishi’s twangy guitar and Will Jarvis’ bass introduce an undulating peak-era Grateful Dead tune to kick off the album’s first track, Meanwhile Tomorrow. Multi-reedwoman Colleen Allen, trombonist Mark Ferguson and trumpeter Jason Logue sail in, Doug Wilde adding both spare piano and a Wurlitzer accordion patch. The three-man percussion section – co-founder Art Avalos, Charlie Cooley and Matt Zimbel – provide a cheerily hypnotic clip-clop groove. The Dead with horns, you say. Is that all there is to this?

Hardly. Tateishi’s noir reverberations kick off the darkly bluesy Illusionist over a cantering, boomy rhythm, the horns and keys joining the brooding atmosphere. Allen’s plaintive alto sax solo gives way to a bit of an unexpected gospel piano theme before the band edge it further toward Ethiopiques.

Lowdown begins with a trickily pulsing Greek rhythm evocative of that famous Smiths hit, but with a Lynchian undercurrent. Logue’s rustic, muted trumpet contrasts with Ferguson’s smoky trombone, Tateishi peaking out with a long, flaring solo,

Ferguson switches to lingering vibraphone, paired with Allen’s uneasy alto flute over an altered qawwali rhythm for the similarly moody Smoke and Mirrors. There’s exploratory trombone against terse, resonant bass, then a return to a spare suspense theme.

Purple Theory comes across as a Greek-flavored midtempo Grateful Dead anthem, tightly circling horns behind an enigmatic guitar solo. Never Twelve, a lowrider latin soul tune, has balmy horns and spare, resonant guitar assembled around echoey Wurlitzer.

The band take a detour into syncopated funk with Five Alive and close the album with T’was Brillig, w which sounds like Jethro Tull taking a stab at an Acadian folk tune – que je puisse te porter des chansons du bois!

Cypriot Psychedelic Mastermind Perseveres With a New Solo Album

Of all the parts of the world where the lockdowner takeover has been the most sadistic, Cyprus has suffered as greatly as any nation outside of Communist China or Australia. As you would expect, multi-instrumentalist Antonis Antoniou‘s two psychedelic bands – Trio Tekke and Monsieur Doumani – have been put on ice until his home turf is liberated. In the meantime, he hasn’t stopped making music. His new solo album Kkismettin – streaming at Spotify – has the same edgy, chromatically-fueled drive and trippy textures as his full-band work, drawing on influences as diverse as classic Greek psychedelic rock, music from across the Balkans, and old rembetiko hash-smoking and revolutionary anthems. Here, he’s a one-man psychedelic band on lute, bass, keys and percussion.

In the opening track, Livarin, an electric lute melody rings out amid woozy synth multitracks and a mix of electronic and organic beats, some of which which Antoniou plays on the metal trashcans used as barriers on his native island (oldschool pre-lockdown divide-and-conquer mechanism).

The second tune, Ttappa Kato, has a deliciously loopy, shiveringly slinky chromatic bounce. The album’s title track has a whispery, conspiratorial ambience, built around a thicket of percussion, tremoloing bass and wah-wah textures.

Angali, an instrumental, has a loopy cheer and a sonic artichoke of dubwise layers. Antoniou picks up the pace with the ridiculously anthemic Ksimeroman, which brings to mind King Gizzard at their trippiest and most Turkish-influenced.

Gritty, jagged riffs pierce the echoey, ominously loopy atmosphere in the next track, Baris as Antoniou makes a big anthem out of it. Doulia has a groove that undulates somewhere between rai and cumbia, along with allusively chromatic hammer-on lute riffage. The swirl and boom hit a psychedelic peak in Varella, followed by Djinorkes Meres, the starkest and most distinctly rembetiko-ish number here.

Antoniou winds up the record with Achtina, his darkly twangy, incisive electric lute awash in dense atmospherics. This isn’t just for fans of Aegean music: if psychedelic rock, Balkan or Middle Eastern music is your jam, crank this strange and surreal mix. May we all be able to find inspiration and hope for the future in the darkest of times just as Antoniou has here.

Beware of Greeks Bearing Loud Guitar Amps

Balothizer are among the most recent heavy psychedelic bands to realize how delicious haunting old Greek folk tunes sound when you crank up the volume and hit the distortion pedal. The obvious comparison is New York’s own Greek Judas, who, like Batholizer, are one of the few rock acts releasing new material these days. Check out the Brooklynites’ latest single, Snakey Song, which is probably the most succinct number in their repertoire of heavy metal versions of hash-smoking and protest songs from the 1920s and 30s..

Balothizer have a whole new album, Cretan Smash, streaming at Bandcamp. The eerie Arabic-influenced chromatics and fearless pro-freedom content of music from Crete are everywhere here, starting with the epic, defiant first track, Jegaman, kicking off with a slashing cadenza from guest violinist Stratos Skarakis. Frontman Nikos Ziarkas multitracks sizzling electric lute riffs over Pav Mav’s gritty, galloping bass and Steve J. Payne’s pummeling drums as the song veers between speedmetal and a slow, relentlessly doomy sway.

The second track is Peace, a slow, grimly stomping anthem until the shreddy stampede out. You want grim? The third number, Aleppo – a bitter exile’s tale – gets reinvented as sort of Greek Motorhead, but with more of a hypnotically propulsive drive, while the fourth, Ponente Levante, a vengeful chronicle of finding nothing but trouble in the world, has an even faster, circling attack.

Foustalieris, a popular tune with a witheringly metaphorical revolutionary message, has elegantly echoey acoustic twin lutes to kick things off, then the band barrel through to a long wah-wah stoner jam. They close the record with their most epic number here, Anathema, a shoegazy slowcore tune. Watch for this on the best albums of 2020 page at the end of the year.

Elegant, Intricate, Individualistic Guitar Instrumentals From Duo Tandem

Duo Tandem play gorgeously interwoven, largely minor-key acoustic guitar music with elegant climbs, moving basslines, exchanges of roles and lead lines. Their new album Guitar Duos of Kemal Belevi is streaming at Spotify. Guitarist Necati Emirzade is typically in the right channel, his bandmate Mark Anderson in the left.

They open the record with the first of a handful of Cyprian Rhapsodie, a steady, brooding, briskly strolling minor-key blend of Romany jazz, the baroque and rembetiko. It’s essentially an overture to the triptych which follows. The first part is slower, with a spare Emirzade solo and a little more counteproint; the second is more sober and austere, with some magically nuanced echo phrases from Anderson over walking bass figures. The conclusion comes across as a sunny Mediterranean bouzouki tune with an unexpectedly moody bridge, the lead shifting from Emirzade’s precise walks and chords to Anderson’s bracing tremolo-picking.

The two slowly shift Valse No. 1 from melancholy to somewhat more animated terrain, with more of the album’s initial Greek Django atmosphere. The album’s sixth track, another rhapsody, has some coy call-and-response amid the Mediterranean baroque phrasing.

Valse No. 2 is more wistfully reflective, with lots of gentle twin lead lines. The three-part Turkish Suite begins with an enigmatic circular theme and variations, shifts to a slow, spacious, mutedly saturnine midsection and winds up with the album’s most intensely crescendoing, chromatically biting coda.

Romance has the most traditional baroque counterpoint on the record. The next rhapsody reprise makes a good segue, adding a little beachy Greek flavor to what otherwise could be Telemann or Handel. The album’s final suite, Three Fragments begins with could be a Django Reinhardt reinvention of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, continues with echoes of Debussy and Satie and concludes with surreal baroque Romany swing.

Likewise, the album’s epic closing number shifts from brooding chromatics to Bach-like interplay. This is a richly melodic showcase for Belevi’s distinctive, elegant compositions, which deserve the inspired interpretations they get from Emirzade and Anderson.

Edgy, Upbeat, Relentlessly Uneasy Greek Psychedelia From Trio Tekke

Trio Tekke play Greek psychedelia that looks to the Middle East as much as it does to the first wave of Greek psych-rock bands from the 60s. Zola Jesus‘ most straight-up psychedelic adventures are a point of comparison, as are the first wave of 90s revivalists like Annabouboula, although Trio Tekke have a sparser, less dance-oriented sound. Their new album Strovilos – meaning “whirlwind” – is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first cut is Tempest of the Dawn, a spare, Middle Eastern-tinged melody emerging from Antonis Antoniou’s echoey, allusively Middle Eastern flavored tzouras lute, Lefteris Moumtzis’ guitar, Colin Somervell’s bass and Dave DeRose’s drums. The lyrics are in Greek, although the album comes with translations: this one is a trippy bacchanal narrative. That’s a common theme throughout the rest of the album.

Electric bouzouki clangs and Farfisa organ blips in and out in the similarly spare, more mysterious On the Street, pulsing along on a tricky 10/4 beat with fuzztone bass. Then the band work their way up out of a pensive lauto intro to a creepy, watery, hypnotic groove in Rotten Luck

Fueled by a piercingly gorgeous, chromatic electric bouzouki melody from Antoniou, the rembetiko art-rock drinking anthem I Erase the Day has a slow, syncopated pulse: imagine Greek Judas without the heavy metal thump. Moumtzis’ lingering guitar contrasts with the ring of the bouzouki over a muted, dancing beat in the album’s title cut: it’s anything but stormy.

The band go back to strangely altered, more optimistic rembetiko atmosphere with The First Day, echoing the days when prisoners of the brutal dictatorship of the 30s languished in jails, plotting their escapes. In Breathless Shriek, the band continue that theme more darkly, without the metaphors, over balletesque syncopation with starry, incisive guitars and keys.

The album’s poppiest and most playful number is the taverna dance tune Shooting Star. With its incisive riffs, Karmic is the closest thing here to classic 70s British psychedelia: think early Genesis with Greek fretted instruments instead. The trio close the record with Electric Sighs, a Romany-tinged waltz with dub echoes. Further proof that the best psychedelia these days comes from places far from where it was invented.

Haunting New Interpretatations of Ancient Greek Tunes on the Upper East Side

Last night at Holy Trinity Cathedral on the Upper East Side, clarinetist Petroloukas Halkias and lauto player Vasilis Kostas treated a sold-out crowd to a rare, exhilarating, frequently haunting performance of centuries-old repertoire from the Epirus region of northern Greece.

It was astonishing to witness how much vigor and vitality Halkias, now 85, can still bring to the material. Employing round after round of circular breathing, he most frequently channeled a woody, otherwordly, resonant tone that evoked a duduk. In those instances, his steady, unwavering, meticulous control, typically playing moody, often plaintive variations and melismatic microtones against a low, central note, were absolutely spellbinding.

The scion of a legacy of virtuosos that dates back to the 1880s, Halkias also displayed an American jazz influence…but with airy, purposeful, pensive lines rather than endless volleys of postbop. Kostas, his protege, often picked out clarinet voicings on his lauto, sparkling with hammer-ons and pull-offs. It was a clinic in individualistic interpretations of an ancient tradition.

Kostas said that violinist Beth Bahia Cohen’s similarly spellbinding, ominously chromatic voicings would be difficult to find among musicians from Epirus today, let alone here in the US: he was clearly psyched to have her in the band. His fellow lautist Pangiotis Sakkoulas played steady, jangly rhythm, often holding an enigmatic, open minor sixth chord for minutes on end while his bandmates exchanged solos. Percussionist Pangiotis Georgakopolous may only have been playing the defi hand drum for a few months – he’s a jazz drummer by trade – but had masterful touch and sublety, especially when it came to coloring the lows.

The material was as dynamic as the performance. Kostas sang in expressive Greek throughout a mix of lively drinking tunes, resonant love ballads and several plaintive laments. The best number of the night was a moody minor-key ballad based on a four-chord descending progression, featuring some of Kostas and Halkias’ most poignantly incisive soloing. Several of the numbers began with undulating, brightly major-key verses before taking a turn toward stormier, more ominous Balkan terrain. Both musicians took turns opening songs with tantalizingly brief, woundedly vivid solo improvisations. There was no encore: after almost two nonstop hours onstage, the group got a lengthy standing ovation.

Halkias and Kostas also have a rapturous new duo album, The Soul of Epirus, a more intimate, intertwining approach to many of these songs.

Middle Eastern-Tinged Jazz Intensity and an Upper West Side Album Release Show From Brilliant Bassist Petros Klampanis

Petros Klampanis is a highly sought after bassist in the New York jazz, Middle Eastern and Greek music scenes. He’s also a fantastic composer, combining elements of all those styles and more. His darkly intense latest album Irrationalities, a trio recording with pianist Kristjan Randalu and drummer Bodek Janke, is streaming at Spotify. He’s playing the release show on Oct 9 at 8:30 PM at Symphony Space; advance tix are $27.

The opening track, Easy Come Easy Go, has a sprightly, shuffling groove, Randalu’s glittering lines over fluttery percussion that subtly shifts toward clave as the piano grows more wary and modal: this mix of moody Middle Eastern and salsa-jazz is more than a little bittersweet. Klampanis’ use of eerie close harmonies and allusively levantine melody throughout the record raises the intensity several notches.

Seeing You Behind My Eyes follows the rises and falls between a similarly brooding tone poem and lithely dancing, judiciously spacious variations that finally peak out with Randalu’s spiraling, tumbling solo before coming full circle. The album’s title track makes gritttily majestic jazz out of a tricky Indian carnatic vocal theme, artfully melding uneasy chromatics with warmer hints of trad balladry and a masterfully intertwining piano solo. The false ending is a cool trick as well.

LIkewise, the polyrhythms between bass and piano as Thalassia Platia gets underway: what seems to be a wistful waltz turns out to be far more conflicted, with its aching lushness and a biting, upper-register bass solo. No Becomes Yes goes in the opposite direction, a rather stern, sometimes eerie melody expanding as the group let some sun burst through the clouds, although that’s not as simple as that might seem. Lots of persuasion going on here, apparently.

Klampanis winds up the album with its most epic number, the Nat Cole ballad Blame It On My Youth, cleverly triangulating the rhythm and adding a delicious surprise at the end. There are also a couple of coy miniatures, Temporary Secrets 2 and 3, blending urban found sounds with glockenspiel and a catchy bass riff. Purposeful, relentlessly tuneful and distinctively original, this is a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of the year