is an incredibly talented composer and violinist; her album, Bridges from the East
, celebrates the composer's Greek, Mediterranean and Southern European heritage. Her compositions are deeply personal with elements referencing different music styles and origins, both reflecting the sounds of Eastern Europe and North Africa. The European influences are by 20th Century classical composers such as Bartok, Stravinsky, and Lutoslawski, with the influences of jazz and Arabic classical music being represented by the melodic and harmonic colors and the abundant improvising. Kurtis is a creative tour-de-force who never ceases to try push the limits of what can be done in music. Kurtis' Quintet (Ensemble Elektra), which she started in the 1980s, consists of Elektra Kurtis
on violin, Curtis Stewart
on violin, Lefteris Bournias
on clarinet and Bradley Joneson
on bass. Driven by an obvious creative collaboration, these musicians share common energy, passion, emotions and elevate the music in an integrated message of expansion through going deeper into the music and not though ensemble size. It is tough to define what makes a musical collaborative work -there has to be a balance of tension and compassion. That's what happens in Ensemble Elektra from the first notes of the album, the musicians work as a listening unit. Kurtis has the ability as a leader to facilitate a point of entry in the music that will allow everyone's unique skills and voice to be heard in a bold and honest manner, whether their part is written or improvised. The result is automatic, organic rapport and it beams through on Bridges from the East
The sonic landscape presented on Bridges from the East
is varied, from violin duets to fully orchestrated quartet ensemble passages. You'll heard a myriad of sounds such as virtuosic solos, screaming bluesy phrases, exotic scales, spoken words, interesting time signatures and Kurtis' impeccable writing that filters her countless influences (Cuban Music, R&B, jazz, Arabic classical, Greek folk music and European classical) into a singular, electrifying sound that is Bridges from the East
Examples can be found in "Hasaposerviko" (Part 1 of "Rhapsody in Greek") a dance utilizing the flavor of Rebetiko. Rebetiko can be described as the urban popular songs of the Greeks, from the late 19th century to the mid-1950s. In the first section the entire ensemble is in on the statement of the melody. Kurtis' writing for the 2 violins and clarinet front line is excellent. With creative harmony lines that fully use contrary motion and tension and release to keep the music flowing forward and growing. The B section presents the melody in a dance feel that also serves as the solo setting. Kurtis' solos are melodic and full of passion, never straying so far away from the melody as to lose the listener, she always tells a story. "Red Apple" uses a traditional Polish folk theme as the bases for exploration. This is a fine example of Kurtis' subtle, yet highly effective contrapuntal writing. Eventually developing into a five four groove that Kurtis takes a truly inspired solo over. Her energy and passion for music is clearly transferred through the violin and can easily be felt and heard. "334" is another example of Kurtis' creative writing, using a hidden grouping of three, three and four rhythmic patterns to develop a theme and melodic statement.
"East West" according to Kurtis, "was inspired by the Greek art song masters of the 60s and 70s, Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis. Their long melodic phrases and folk dance rhythms create an off center, contemporary Zeibekiko dance." The selection is moody and again finds Kurtis' solo full of fire. Not to be forgotten is Curtis Stewart
's contribution to the project. Stewart is Kurtis' son and the chemistry between the two is also part of the magic of this project. Nowhere is their symbiotic relationship more apparent than the three duets performed by the two, composed by Kurtis. "Trebble Duet Nr.1," "Trebble Duet Nr.2," and "Trebble Duet Nr.3" are exemplary, showing the pair phrasing abilities, blending, solo and accompaniment skills and their natural aptitude to listen to each other, which results in a highly musical performance.