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Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri: Athens Concert

Ian Patterson By

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What might on the surface appear as a meeting of disparate minds—jazz with Byzantine airs—ignores the fact that multi-reed/woodwind player Charles Lloyd has been embracing the music of the world for half a century with singular conviction and grace. Greek classical singer Maria Farantouri is herself a musical adventurer and risk taker; over the course of fifty years, she has collaborated with guitarist John Williams, Turkish composer Zulfu Livaneli, Cuban guitarist/composer Leo Brouwer, electronic legend Gabriele Evangelista and saxophonist Jan Garbarek. For over a decade too, she has played and recorded with pianist Henning Schmiedt, saxophonist/flautist Volker Schlott and cellist Jens Naumilkat, reinterpreting Greek music from the Byzantine to traditional rembetiko, or urban blues. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Farantouri and Lloyd's outstanding quartet sound so perfectly attuned to each other on this entrancing recording.

Athens Concert was the logical extension of a collaboration that began with Farantouri joining Lloyd on stage to sing his composition "Blow Wind" in 2003. Here, they revisit the tune, with pianist Jason Moran's crystalline lines, Lloyd's prayer-like ruminations and Eric Harland's washing cymbals providing the perfect foil for Farantouri's enchanting vibrato. "Requiem" is a gentle swinger, with more than a hint of "Autumn Leaves." Farantouri's yearning vocal has a bluesy warmth here, and again on the gorgeous "Voyage to Cythera"; it's not difficult to see why Lloyd is reminded of the spirit of singer Billie Holiday when Farantouri pours out her soul like this.

The other Lloyd tracks are a stirring quartet rendition of the gospel-tinged "Dream Weaver," with Moran again shining on a percussive yet melodic solo; and the elegiac "Prayer," where Farantouri and Lloyd's caressing voices conjure an ethereal beauty common to much devotional music, underpinned by Socratis Sinopoulos's aching lyra, which leads the ensemble into the epic, three-part Greek Suite. The Greek traditional music is arranged by additional pianist Takis Farazis, who was part of bassist/composer Yiorgos Fakanas's progressive group, ISKRA in the 1980s. He deserves much credit for the resultant magic exhibited in this Old World/New World blend.

At forty minutes, the eleven segments of the three suites make for a powerful collective statement. Haunting lyricism and gravitas dance around each other in beautifully shifting tides, and Lloyd's sparingly used flute and taragato combine with lyra to add a further dimension to the music. Farantouri conveys a great range of emotions, from lament to incantation, and from operatic drama to unbridled joy. Lloyd, Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and Harland all enjoy their moments in the sun, but it is the empathetic quartet support of Farantouri which impresses most, buoying her and lifting her—and the ensemble, in turn— to transcendent heights of expression.

If the best music is experienced live, then those who attended the Odeon of Herodes Atticus—at the foot of the Acropolis, Athens—to witness Lloyd's New Quartet, Farantouri, Sinopoulos and Farazis one summer evening, can consider themselves truly fortunate; the music captured here is sublime and, like the best art, is surely timeless in its appeal.

Track Listing: CD1: Kratissa ti zoi mou; Dream Weaver; Blow Wind; Requiem; Greek Suite, Part I: Hymnos stin Ayia Triada, Epano sto xero homa, Messa stous paradissious kipous; Taidi sta Kythera. CD2: Prayer; Greek Suite, Part II: Vlefaro mou, Margaritarenia, Thlassaki mou; Greek Suite, Part III: Epirotiko meroloi, Kægomæ kæ sigoliano, Mori kontoula lemonia, Alismono kæ hæromæ, Tou hel' to kastron; ZYanni mou.

Personnel: Maria Farantouri: voice; Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, flute, taragato; Jason Moran: piano; Reuben Rogers: double-bass; Eric Harland: drums; Socratis Sinopoulos: lyra; Takis Farazis: piano (CD1#5-7, CD2#2-10).

Title: Athens Concert | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records

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