Occasionally a CD will come along that will so impress it is literally impossible to take it out of the player. That is the case with arothymian by Nickos Kapilidis and The Jazz Utopia.
Kapilidis is a Greek drummer whose first musical studies were on the Greek accordion - the Bouzouki Accordian, then trumpet, flute and piano. He started playing drums with pop bands and studying music theory at the age of 13 and eventually worked in the family band with his father and brothers playing traditional Greek music. Drum studies with Stelios Fotakis, Alekos Xristidis, Mickey Earnshaw in Vancouver and Max Mariash in Chicago followed. For the last seven years he has focused on the study of traditional odd-meter Greek music and along with playing in a wide variety of rock, blues, jazz and fusion bands.
The concept behind The Jazz Utopia is to create music based on mixing melodic and rhythmic elements from Greek music with the harmonic/rhythmic elements in jazz. Formed in the spring of 2001 this group focuses it’s energy on playing music in odd meters and rhythms. Their first live appearance was a widely praised concert at the International Percussion Festival on the island of Lefkada in 2001. For the next two years they spent all their time rehearsing in an effort to work on creating the sound they all heard, but had trouble physically producing. Their painstaking work pays off in aces with the release of this disc.
Kapilidis, an exceptionally tasteful and technically proficient drummer, is joined by musicians of equal stature not familiar to North Americans: Takis Paterelis on soprano saxophone, Vasso Dimitriou on guitars and tzouras and effects, and Nikos Hadjopoulos on the upright electric bass. The eight compositions are all by Kapilidis except for one which was co-written with Dimitriou.
The style of the music is right out of 70s fusion combined with the complex rhythmic temperament of Frank Zappa along with the tastefulness of Weather Report. Each track is more inviting than the previous. Paterelis is a swinging and discerning musician whose lines seek balance within the turbulent metrics. He never falters, all the more amazing when one considers the recording was done as a live performance in the studio, and finds way to shift harmonic structures within the music to expected but exciting areas with aplomb and zeal.
Dimitriou’s guitar work is reminiscent of Larry Coryell’s fusion work but in a more laid back manner, and Hadjopoulos’ bass work is clear, focused and provides the intellectual frame the others work off of. Kapilidis’ drums, however, are the real star. His ability to take extremely complex cross-related metrics, play them in an easy manner and still be supportive of the improvisational needs of his fellow musicians is extraordinary. This disc has to be heard to be believed, it’s that good.