New York Music Daily

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Tag: mavrothi kontanis

Petros Klampanis Debuts His Hauntingly Sweeping New Chamber Jazz Project

Bassist Petros Klampanis is one of New York’s most eclectic sidemen, equally sought after for straight-up jazz, Middle Eastern and Greek music. But his greatest strength is as a composer and bandleader. His compositions draw on all of those influences as well as classical music. As you might expect from someone who grew up on a Greek island, he likes minor keys and chromatics, but also lush strings: his arrangements, awash in eerie close harmonies, are unique in jazz and something he’s clearly proud of, if the merch section on the front of his webpage is any indication. His most recent album, Minor Dispute blends broodingly cinematic themes with Greek folk-influenced material and some lively postbop. But his greatest achievement yet is his work with his new chamber jazz ensemble Chroma. This past evening at the Onassis Center in midtown, Klampanis the big band – Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Shai Maestro on piano, John Hadfield and Keita Ogawa on percussion and a hefty string section – through a dynamic set of mostly new material.

Klampanis explained to the sold-out crowd that the inspiration for the group name, and the title of their forthconing album – the Greek word for “color” – draw on the kaleidoscopoic nature of individual experience. Several of the early numbers in the set built from moody, neoromantically nocturnal Maestro piano intros, the first up to a maze of polyrhythms that came together as the piano and twin percussion spiraled with an almost frantic bustle while Hekselman sailed overhead, choosing his spots. Klampanis sang anthemic, distantly angst-tinged vocalese over the cinematic sweep of the strings as the piano grew more intense and emphatic on what was the catchiest and possibly best number of the evening. The bandleader’s one bass solo of the night bubbled and contrasted with the eerily rising strings behind him, returning to crepuscular ambience that receded down to a series of ghostly, austere washes.

The night’s most kinetic number hinted at the Mission Impossible theme with its polyrhythms, highwire piano and blippy staccato guitar, opening with and later and returning to Philip Glass-like circular riffage and a mighty, crashing crescendo at the end. Likewise, Monkey Business vamped along with a darkly jaunty pulse and wryly effects-laden guitar, again bringing back those ominously opaque strings with a descent into the shadows.

Soulful, expressively melismatic baritone crooner Mavrothi Kontanis sang the night’s big audience hit, a lively jazzed-up take on a cheery Greek bouzouki folk tune. The aptly titled, rhythmically shapeshifting Shadows, by Klampanis’ island-mate Spyros Manesis, rose and fell in quick waves over Maestro’s precise, gravely balletesque piano and the clip-clop rhythm of the two percussionists. Cosmic Patience, a Hekselman tune, began with glistening, black-confetti strewn guitar and quickly hits a suspenseful groove, Klampanis pedaling his syncopation as the tension grows, then the rhythm relaxed and Hekselman took the most trad postbop solo of the night, the strings’ austerity at the end ushering in what by now had become an inevitable, haunting, austere return. For those who had the misfortune to miss this show, Klampanis is reprising it with pretty much the same crew on December 26 at Cornelia St. Cafe with sets at 9 and 10:30; cover is 10 + $10 min.

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From the Black Sea to Spanish Harlem in a Single Day at Lincoln Center

This year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors has been as reliably fun and eclectic as ever. And it’s more watchable than ever since many of the events are being simulcast (and promise to be archived for streaming later). As far as music from around the world is concerned, that’s been arguably better than ever. The previous weekend’s standout concert modeled itself on Globalfest, the dance-friendly annual spinoff of the January booking agents’ convention held at Webster Hall. Sunday’s show on the plaza mirrored the arguably even more deliriously fun, Middle Eastern-inspired Alwan-a-Thon conceived by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, held over the same weekend at downtown cultural mecca Alwan for the Arts.

The concert began with self-taught Afghani rubab lute player Quraishi leading a trio with twin dhol drums. His brief set of three traditional folk numbers and a bouncy original was considerably more lighthearted than his rather somber new album Mountain Melodies. Lilting pastoral themes that brought to mind more longscale Hindustani music rose and fell with a hypnotic pulse flavored with spiky, briskly fingerpicked improvisation. The lutenist explained that while some of his music reminds of styles from further east, many Indian ragas are based on Afghani melodies, and that the rubab is the ancestor of the Indian sarod. In a droll Q&A with the audience, Quraishi revealed the secret to keeping his instrument in tune with all the strings intact, no small achievement: he uses steel for the ringing, sympathetic strings and gut for the rest, with the exception of the bass string, which he’d liberated from a tennis racket. He didn’t specify whether that one was gut or nylon, but either way it didn’t break like others had.

Next on the bill were the haunting, exhilarating Ensemble Shashmaqam. As organizer Pete Rushefsky explained, the group originally came together in 1982 in Queens to play Bukharan Jewish repertoire but since has expanded to include Muslim folk material from Uzbekhistan and Tajikistan. In an otherworldly, passionately expressive bass-baritone, their powerful lead singer “Samarkandi,” a.k.a. Rustam Kojimamedov intoned and implored over an alternately haunting and bouncy backdrop fueled by the biting lines of David Davidov’s homemade tar lute. A trio of women dressed in colorful silk costumes took turns twirling and dancing gracefully across the stage throughout the show. A couple of elegaic waltzes, an anthem punctuated by anguished crescendos from Samarkandi that drew gasps of astonishment or solidarity from the crowd, as well as a jaunty, surprisingly lighthearted Jewish wedding dance mini-suite, vocals and tar set against a rather somber wash of minor-key accordion and backing vocals, made this the day’s most impactful set.

Turkish singer/composer Ahmet Erdogdular and his quartet – Peter Daverington on expressive, sailing ney flute, Elylen Basaldi on similarly lithe violin and meticulously precise, soulful oudist Mavrothi Kontanis (who has an alter ego as a darkly psychedelic rock bandleader) – maintained the serious mood. Maybe to differentiate his performance from the others, Erdogdular counterintuitively chose several songs in rather obscure maqam modes, rather than relying on the edgy chromatics and eerie microtones that make Turkish music both so haunting and so instantly identifiable. Erdogdular sang in a powerful, emotive baritone while accompanying himself on frame drum, and on one number, on tambur lute, contributing a long, plaintive solo that mirrored his pensive, brooding approach to the vocals.

The NY Crimean Tatar Ensemble continued the day’s theme of how the music of Turkik peoples has made such an impact from the Balkans through central Asia. Frontman Nariman Asimov spun adrenalizing, rapidfire violin lines balanced by the careful approach of virtuoso kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi (of the NY Gypsy All-Stars) while a succession of men and women dancers, in gold-embroidered silk costumers similar to those worn by Ensemble Shashmaqam’s dancers, moved with a jaunty precision in front of the quartet. This group’s set was the most eclectic and stylistically diverse, ranging from moody klezmer-infused romps, a stately waltz or two and joyously pogoing dances, all of them lit up with searing violin and pointillistic kanun work. Pinarbasi shadowed the melody, indicating that he might not have had much if any rehearsal for the set but nonetheless managed to infuse everything with his signature dynamics and intensity.

About an hour and a half after this show had ended, bandleader Cita Rodriguez and her Orchestra took the stage in Damrosch Park just to the south, leading an ecstatic, towering tribute to her late father, the great salsa singer Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez. Her brother, Pete, who happens to be one of the most potent, pyrotechnic trumpeters in all of jazz, got to take more of a turn on vocals this time, a role he grew into while still in his teens, singing choruses with his famous dad. The concert began with a hypnotic, otherworldly booming African drum interlude, then the orchestra kicked in with a mighty swell and kept the energy at redline well after the sun had finally gone down as a parade of El Conde’s colleagues, including but not limited to Johnny Pacheco, Willie Montalvo and others, took their turns on the mic. Through catchy, endless two-chord vamps punctuated by explosive brass swells, a couple of epically symphonic anthems and a suite of 70s hits, the party was in full effect and never relented. El Conde was a musician’s musician, a craftsman who was always looking for ways to take his art to the next level, through the last weeks of his life: as a celebration of Puerto Rican pride dating from the days when there was plenty of opposition to it in this city, he would have taken a lot of satisfaction from this.

Raw, Smoldering Middle Eastern Rock from Mild Mannered Rebel

In the summer of 2008, oud virtuoso Mavrothi Kontanis released two brilliant debut albums. The first was a mix of stark classics from the Greek rembetiko underground of the the 1920s and 30s. The second, Wooden Heart, was originals influenced by the music of that era, with a similar restlessness and unease. Kontanis’ new album Ear to the Sky, with his band Mild Mannered Rebel, includes more of those plaintive, intense acoustic songs, but also psychedelic rock featuring Kontanis on – take a deep breath – guitars, bouzouki, baglama and tambouro lute. The band is playing the album release show at Drom on April 26 at 9:30; tix are only $10 and still available as of today. It’s a prime opportunity to get to know some of the songs from what might be the best album of 2013 in any style of music.

As in much of Greek music (Kontanis being second-generation Greek-American), the tempos on this album tend to be very tricky. Kontanis’ English lyrics are as serpentine as the music. While many have a smoldering, vengeful anger, Kontanis’ vocals have a low-key confidence and understatement: he lets the lyrics speak for themselves. Most of the acoustic songs set Kontanis’ oud and Megan Gould’s violin out in front of Brian Holtz’s bass and Shane Shanahan’s percussion; the rock stuff gives Kontanis a chance to be a one-man army of stringed instruments. Either way, the interplay between the instruments is luscious, whether it’s genuine teamwork or simply Kontanis’ intricately intertwining multitracks.

The album opens with a lithe, dancing acoustic intro titled Flight of Ikaros and ends with Fall of Ikaros, a metaphorically bristling lament with a long, hypnotic but biting violin solo as its centerpiece. The best song on the album is a brooding string quartet of sorts (a requiem for Kontanis’ father), sung in a richly low, suspenseful, elegaic alto by the ubiquitously brilliant Eva Salina Primack (who has a fantastic solo album of her own just out). The most psychedelic track is Dancing in My Dreams, Kontanis playing swooping, sitar-like lines over droning, dirty Velvets-style guitar distortion and a funereal bass pulse.

The menacingly nocturnal title track is a galloping, syncopated feast of chromatic minor-key guitar. Feel the Night and See You Through to the End both juxtapose carefree verses against edgy, anxious choruses, while the kiss-off anthem Don’t Need You Here works a bittersweet bucolic vibe. Mercy reaches toward a darkly seductive rembetiko ambience, while the viciously sarcastic Heart of Gold mines a psychedelic Greek folk vibe much in the same vein as Magges or Annabouboula. Rage finally reaches fever pitch in the revenge anthem The Climb, lit up by edgy oud/violin harmonies and Kontanis’ murderous lyrics. As stylistically diverse as this album is, Kontanis’  wicked chops on all those instruments connect them with a simmering, wounded angst. It’s one of the most hard-hitting, featlessly intense albums of the year.

Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales: Amazing Album

This isn’t safe, sanitized folk music: Vlada Tomova’s new album Balkan Tales has a raw, dangerous edge. Anyone who loves the otherworldly tonalities and dark, ominous chromatics of Bulgarian, Balkan and Middle Eastern music will love this – it’s a rich, intense treat, all the way through. The Bulgarian-born singer varies her vocals depending on the lyric, from low and apprehensive, to brassy and plaintively gritty, to absolutely joyous, with the occasional big “wheeeeeee!” at the end of a phrase. Good singers tend to be magnets for good musicians, and Tomova is no exception. While the album’s instrumentation varies widely from song to song, most of them are built around the terse, stately acoustic guitar work of Kyle Senna and bass provided by either Danny Zanker or Sage Reynolds. Oud genius Mavrothi Kontanis adds an especially suspenseful edge on a couple of tracks, including one deliciously low, mysterious solo. The rest of the crew – Uri Sharlin on accordion, Alicia Svigals on violin, Sarah Bowman on cello and Matthias Kunzli on echoey, boomy percussion – shift confidently among the diverse emotions Tomova evokes.

The songs are a mix of traditional material along with some more recent songs whose composers’ identities have not been lost. Senna lights up the second track with a graceful yet biting, chromatically-charged solo: hearing it on a guitar instead of, say, an oud or bouzouki, adds an unusual and interesting texture to the mix. A big ballad by Lubo Alexandrov is gorgeously dark, slow and slinky, with wounded vocals; another by Niko Papaxoglu gets a spare, ghostly, haunted treatment. But Tomova quickly flips the script, following with a wry, trickly rhythmic, irresistibly crescendoing dance tune. One song has a rustic sway much like an Appalachian ballad – before the rhythm shifts and there’s no doubt that it hails from Eastern Europe. Another takes a creepy, two-chord pulse with spiraling wood flute and adds a bit of an acoustic rock edge. Avishai Cohen’s apprehensive muted trumpet imbues one of the later tracks with a pensive, late 60s psychedelic folk-rock feel. The album closes with a suspenseful Kurdish song that works its way from seems like a casual, improvisational intro to a fiery, methodically accelerating, accordion-fueled gallop. Tomova plays Symphony Space this Sunday, Oct 23 at 7 opening for Macedonian wood flute virtuoso Theodosii Spassov; tix are $30 and worth it.