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Vassilis Tsabropoulos / Anja Lechner: Melos

John Kelman By

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Exploring similar territory as the sublimely beautiful Chants, Hymns and Dances (ECM, 2004), pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos and cellist Anja Lechner switch the emphasis on Melos. Chants focused largely on the writing of rebel philosopher Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866-1949)—for whom musical composition was more a means to an end, encouraging students to strive for a higher state of awareness and take greater control over their lives—bookending five Tsabropoulos pieces that, while reflective of the pianist's own voice, acted as a seamless transition between the two Gurdjieff segments. Melos draws on three relatively brief Gurdjieff compositions that act as directional rallying points, but places far greater emphasis on Tsabropoulos' writing.

Tsabropoulos and Lechner are both classically trained musicians who have demonstrated no shortage of improvisational acumen on other ECM albums including the pianist's 2004 trio disc with bassist Arild Anderson and drummer John Marshall, The Triangle, and the cellist's incomparable 2007 duet with bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, Ojos Negros. With Gurdjieff's writing based on improvisations given defined structure by his assistant, Thomas Alexandrovich de Hartmann, Chants provided Tsabropoulos and Lechner with an inherent interpretive liberty. Tsabropoulos' writing for Melos, while no less formally constructed, provides even greater freedom, albeit within a musical context that remains closer to the classical sphere, even as his harmonic emphasis lends a certain eastward-looking complexion to much of the material.

The addition of percussionist U.T. Gandhi, a member of Saluzzi's extended family on the bandoneonist's Juan Condori (ECM, 2006), gives Melos its own personality, although his playing here is considerably subtler, with delicate cymbal work providing gentle forward motion on Gurdjieff's Oriental-flavored "Tibetan Dance." Greater power drives Tsabropoulos' "Gift of Dreams," where Gandhi's intuitive interaction during the pianist's dramatic solo approaches the kind of nuanced intensity heard from another ECM artist whose approach is equally close to the classical world, Ketil Bjørnstad.

But while Melos possesses a certain majesty ("Song of Gratitude") and, at times, fervent energy (Gurdjieff's "Sayyid Dance" and Tsabropoulos' sharp, short "Reflections"), it also retains some of Chants' near-ambient beauty (the spare "Simplicity") and spirituality (the lingering dark of "Evocation," featuring Lechner's poignant call-and-response with Tsabropoulos).

As Lechner and Tsabropoulos approach improvisation from the simpatico position of similar musical backgrounds, their growth as a duo is palpable, not just in their increasing sense of freedom, bolstered by Gandhi's equally rarified approach, but in the reflective, pensive moments where they speak with a single voice. Both are virtuosic players, whose strong personalities are evident throughout Melos' hour-long program. But it's when, as on the poignant closer, "In Memory," their communication becomes so deep, so consummate, that Melos becomes a truly transcendent experience. The music itself becomes almost secondary to a shared intimacy captured so beautifully as to make each successive listen a new and more rewarding experience.

Track Listing: Melos; Song Of Prosperity I; Tibetan Dance; Gift of Dreams; Reflections; Simplicity; Song Of Gratitude; Song Of Prosperity II; Sayyid Dance; Promenade; Reflections And Shadows; Reading From A Sacred Book (fragment); Vocalise; Evocation; In Memory.

Personnel: Vassilis Tsabropoulos: piano; Anja Lechner: violoncello; U.T. Gandhi: percussion.

Title: Melos | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records


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