Monika Heidemann and Sofia Koutsovitis at Sweet Rhythm

Budd Kopman By

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Monika Heidemann and Sofia Koutsovitis
Sweet Rhythm
New York, NY
June 20, 2006
Tuesday nights at Sweet Rhythm (formerly known as Sweet Basil) are given over to vocalists in a program run by Tessa Souter, and on this particular night, coinciding with the JVC Jazz Festival, the club was quite full for CD release party sets by Monika Heidemann (at 8 pm) and Sofia Koutsovitis (at 9:30 pm).
Since the recording of Bright, Heidemann has been quite busy performing all over the New York City metropolitan area, many times on duo bills with Lily Maase (whose recently recorded Aftermath is in the same general genre). Most of the material in Heidemann's set came from her latest record, as expected.

The band, however, was different from the groups featured on the record or at a set I caught at 55 Bar a while ago. Simon Lott, "Mr. Energy" on drums, seems to be a "permanent sub." Keyboardist Eric Deutsch took vibraphonist Matt Moran's place, with a completely different feel. Bassist Reuben Radding was also new to me, but he added to the sound, also playing with a lot of energy. Thus, only Khabu's guitar and Heidemann's vocals were common threads.

Heidemann's music starts from stream-of-consciousness type lyrics (poems by Allen Ginsburg, for instance), adding unconventionally structured melodies and dynamic arrangements that feel freeform, but are not. The rhythms might be labeled as progressive rock, but the jazz component is very prominent, especially when you consider that Heidemann uses music by Steve Lacy. It's powerful stuff, with an interesting mix of imagery, musicianship and pure kick.

The members of this band need to be well-rehearsed to follow the sectional structure, yet free enough to fly when required, still listening to the entire sound. Deutsch fit right in on both piano and electric keyboards, stepping up when asked. Lott is very familiar with this music, and just like Khabu, who was very free when he wanted to be, he knows this music inside and out. Heidemann, who has a very graceful stage presence, seemed this time to use her voice more as an instrument, sounding with and against the band, instead of just singing in front of it.

While there was a lot of energy in the performance and the audience applauded loudly, the sound at Sweet Rhythm did not help Heidemann's music. Comparing a live performance to a recording is always dangerous, and sometimes the live gig can outshine the studio event. In this case, though, a show that was tight and integrated at the 55 Bar seemed to defuse at Sweet Rhythm.

Like Heidemann, Sofia Koutsovitis' recent gigs around NYC have featured music from her new album, Ojala. Her music originates from South America (specifically Argentina, Brazil and Peru) but it extends well beyond that continent's folk or popular music to include a strong jazz component. I managed to catch the first half of her set, where she and the band stayed in the South American vein. Having only heard her work on the album, I was quite excited to be able to hear this intense singer and her tight band perform live.

Koutsovitis' band was large, featuring a front line of trumpet and two saxophones, supported by piano, bass, drums and percussion. Drummer Ziv Ravitz, percussionist Jorge Perez Albela and bassist Jorge Roeder were very much in sync, producing a solid yet flexible rhythmic bed over which the winds floated, accenting a vocal phrase or taking flight.

Koutsovitis acknowledges the serious input her bandmates made to the arrangements, but she is without question the leader of this group. From the first notes of the opening tune, "Ojala," her deep connection with this music became apparent. A vocalist normally draws most of the attention, but Koutsovitis commands it with her clear, direct voice and phrasing. The result was a performance which brought the audience inside the emotions of each song, even if they did not understand the actual words.


Monika Heidemann Band: Monika Heidemann: vocals, compositions; Erik Deutsch: piano, electric keyboard; Simon Lott: drums; Khabu: guitar; Reuben Radding: bass.

Sofia Koutsovitis Band: Sofia Koutsovitis: vocals, compositions; Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Dan Blake: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Adam Schneit: alto saxophone, clarinet; Leo Genovese: piano; Jorge Roeder: bass; Ziv Ravitz: drums; Jorge Perez Albela: percussion.

Visit Monika Heidemann and Sofia Koutsovitis on the web.

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