Greek singer Maria Farantouri and jazz

This video is called Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri – Athens Concert (Excerpt).

By Chris Searle in Britain:

Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri
Athens Concert

Tuesday 20 November 2012

I sit looking at the one o’clock news. There is a 24-hour strike in Athens and mass protests against severe austerity policies, a record unemployment rate of 24 per cent and spending cuts in welfare, education, health and pensions of €11.5 billion.

The message of the streets pours from the lips of one interviewed protester.

“We strike against the measures that will destroy our lives,” she declares. “We cannot sink any deeper, or the Greek people will die. It is like we are at war.”

Words of September 2012 which echo the sounds of a concert held in Athens in June 2010, at the very foot of the Acropolis, the living result of a deep friendship between the veteran Memphis-born tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd and the Greek singer Maria Farantouri, of whose voice Lloyd wrote: “It can soothe, excite, inspire and lift us to the Hyperions.”

Precious verbs indeed for the Greek people in their defiant struggle against the hugely powerful forces of the combined European Central Bank, the EU Commission, the IMF and their own compliant government – with the growing menace too of the fascism of Golden Dawn and its connections with the Greek police.

With Lloyd are his trio, three youthful veterans of international music, and here deeply imbibing Greek song, musical poetry.

The drummer is Eric Harland who has played with an array of prime horns from altoists Kenny Garrett and Greg Osby, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, tenorist Joshua Redman, plus vibesman Stefon Harris and the epochal pianist McCoy Tyner.

Bassist Reuben Rogers also knows his way round the circuits and also spent time with Redman and New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton.

New York pianist Jason Moran is an experienced leader in his own right, with a batch of luminous Blue Note albums.

As for Lloyd, who the singer calls “a shaman of jazz,” the mass appeal of his performances goes back to his huge popularity at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, his ’60s concerts at San Francisco’s rock venue the Fillmore or his tour of the Soviet Union.

He virtually retired from performing in the ’70s, becoming a teacher of transcendental meditation, but he returned in the ’80s with a new quartet, relentless touring and a series of powerful albums.

The tunes of the Athens Concert are mostly Greek traditional songs, but with two by Lloyd.

Some of them have a truly transplanted taste of the Aegean Blues like Lina Nikolakopoulou’s lyric, Oh Eyelid!, where Farantouri gently demands, “My closed eyelid, / ah, my lucky one! / Don’t come out, dawn star, / don’t be afraid!”

The new imperatives of the Greek people are just as urgent, and they sound out with a potent intensity in Farantouri’s sublime voice and Lloyd’s floating, mystical horn.

Farantouri has been a consistently insightful interpreter of the songs of the Greek people since, as a young woman of 20, she went into exile after the 1967 fascist coup. Her voice has also coaxed the meaning and beauty from the words of Lorca, Yannis Ritsos and Brecht.

But listen to her sing the Seferis poem I Kept Hold Of My Life, with Lloyd’s buoyant obbligatos and Moran’s gentle phrasing.

Or Agathi Dimitrouva’s Requiem of bleak times when “silent shadows / lean over the earth / like trees hanging in midair / with no roots in life.”

Is this how the Greek people feel, now? Yet Moran plays with such optimistic fluency it is as if his empathy is total.

Lloyd blows lyrically and not without mystery on his own Dream Weaver, where Rogers’s bass rings, Harland’s drums clip with Moran’s chiming chorus, but it is with the traditional Greek tunes where his internationalism is invoked like a Robeson of the saxophone.

On the folk tune from the Dodecanese Islands, My Little Sea, his flute dances in the waves with the lyre of Socratis Sinopoulos.

Through the love song from the Epirus region, Little Lemon Tree, Harland’s drums crash and Lloyd’s notes warble powerfully over the roofs of the ancient city.

In the Black Sea song The Castle Of The Sun the fierce pace of the Greek lyrics are matched by Lloyd’s own very American chorus, with the ancestral sounds of Lester Young burning in his notes.

The closing track is the Epirus lament My Yanni about the pain of leaving your home for “lonely foreign lands,” a feeling shared by the many migrant peoples in Greece.

The universal, common theme is understood intuitively through Lloyd’s airy solo, and the two pianos of Moran and his Greek confrere Takis Farazis shared in combined understanding and solidarity.

Athens Concert is a resonating double album and you will hear its melodies, improvisation, poetry and artistry whenever you see the defiance and resistance of the brave people of Greece.

12 thoughts on “Greek singer Maria Farantouri and jazz

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