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Alekos K. Vretos: K On Top

C. Michael Bailey By

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All musical genre can be blended with one another. As I get older and more persnickety, I am coming to believe that just because two musical traditions can be blended that they necessarily should be. I have listened to countless experiments with cross-pollination that best have been left alone. Gratefully, this is not true of Greek musician and composer Alekos Vretos, who seamlessly divines the perfumed essence of Middle Eastern music, infusing that essence into jazz and creating a rich world music hybrid that is as enjoyable to listen to as it is bold to consider.

Vretos plays the oud. The simplest description of this instrument is that it is a Middle Eastern mandolin and anyone who has seen the Raiders of the Lost Arc will immediately recognize it as the instrument that lends that "Middle Eastern Sound" to the music of that region. Its sound is woody and strangely elastic, largely due to its fretless fingerboard. Like the traditional western mandolin, it is a fine vehicle for improvisation, something Vretos amply demonstrates on K On Top.

The lengthy "K on Top of the Piano" opens this disc with a sleek contemporary jazz vibe. Vretos presents the melody doubling with the vibes, a melody that is frankly western, as is the arrangement and solo spots, in which Vretos, electric pianist Dimitris Sevdalis and vibraphonist Vaggelis Paraskevaidis make brilliant use of. This piece is light and airy, a smoky mood piece to be enjoyed with scotch and a cigar at Rick's Café Americain, waiting for the end of the war.

On "Parfun de Gitane" the group goes full-bore eastern in harmonies while retaining a loose jazz rhythm within the rapid percussion of the region. "Invisible Lover" almost has an Ennio Morricone feel to it: expansive and soundtrack like in the introduction becoming Brubeck "Blue Rondo ala Turke."with the entrance of the piano. This is dance music with a wistful lilt and sigh. Again, perfect film music. What Vretos accomplishes is a flavor of organically produced music that is fragrant sound. It has a synesthetic quality like a dream after absinthe.

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