Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri: Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri: Athens Concert

John Kelman By

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When ECM enticed him back into action in 1989, who knew that reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Charles Lloyd's career wouldn't just kick-start, it would signal a period of ascendancy that's moved from one creative height to another ever since? Two decades later, his stable quartet of young Americans rivals the stellar group responsible for Atlantic megahits including 1966's Dream Weaver and 1968's Forest Flower. Blasphemous to some, perhaps, but Lloyd's so-called New Quartet—no longer exactly new, since pianist Jason Moran, joined existing members, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, four years ago for Rabo De Nube (ECM, 2008)—has proven capable of actually surpassing Lloyd's pianist Keith Jarrett/drummer Jack DeJohnette-fueled 1960s quartet, and Athens Concert is the most compelling possible evidence.

Already proven a powerful and simpatico improvising unit on Rabo De Nube and 2010's Mirror, Lloyd's collaboration with Greek singer Maria Farantouri demonstrates a rare ability to not just connect two seemingly unconnectable musics, but to create a seamless new whole with unmistakable yet non-paradoxical roots that would be surprising, were it not for the players involved. Recorded in June, 2010 at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens Concert culls music from a variety of Greek sources including Mikis Theodorakis—with whom Farantouri sang when she was just 16—and another ECM staple, composer Eleni Karaindrou, all brought together on the sprawling "Greek Suite" that spans both of Anthens Concert's two discs.

Lloyd contributes four tunes, including a version of his balladic "Requiem" that's more decidedly swinging than earlier readings on 1992's Notes from Big Sur (ECM) and 1999's Voice in the Night (ECM); here, Farnatouri's expressively warm, vibrato-thick voice proves that her roots may be in Greece, but she's easily capable of crossing over completely into a mainstream jazz environs. Her singing on "Blow Wind" is even better, perhaps because Lloyd had already confirmed this collaboration nearly a decade ago, when he first invited her onstage to sing his minor-keyed tone poem at a 2003 Greek performance. The quartet is featured alone on a 21st century look at "Dream Weaver," that's reverential to the original but, with Harland and Rogers grooving mightily, finds Lloyd, with his mix of swinging melodism and unfettered flurries, at the absolute top of his game. Moran, too, has rarely sounded this good, his firm touch belying lithe lyricism and quirky idiosyncrasies. And when Farantouri sings in tandem with Lloyd on the tranquil spiritual, "Prayer," the two interweaving voices seem made for each other.

From left: Maria Farantouri, Charles Lloyd

But it's the eleven songs that make up the three-part "Greek Suite" which are ultimately Athens Concert's biggest success, as Lloyd and his quartet find a hidden nexus between the two spheres of music, an intersection further cemented by second pianist Takis Farazis, who provides the arrangements on traditional pieces such as the early Byzantine "Hymnos stin Aiya Triada," whose pedal tone modality could easily fit on any of Lloyd's records. The stronger song form of Theodorakis' "Espano sto xero homa" becomes increasingly incendiary, with Harland's ebbing and flowing pulse anchoring a short but unmitigatedly free-thinking solo from Lloyd, while the saxophonist's taragato is featured on "Eporotiko meroloi," a lament made more poignant still by Kairandrou alum Socratis Sinopoulos' bowed lyra.

That music spanning many centuries, and with roots in locales thousands of miles apart, can somehow find such common ground is, perhaps, Athens Concert's greatest success. With both Lloyd and Frantouri spending considerable prep time immersed in each others' traditions—and with the open- minded and increasingly joined-at-the-hip talents of the saxophonist's quartet and this project's Greek guests—this 87-minute concert manages, at any given moment, to fit contextually within the oeuvre of either artist's lengthy career. It's not all that uncommon for artists to attempt the fusion of two seemingly disparate traditions, but it's all too rare that they succeed to this extent, with Athens Concert's seamless confluence suggesting, perhaps, a preexisting link that was just waiting to be discovered

Tracks: 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).

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Lobo Live

Title: Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri: Athens Concert | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records

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