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Progress by Glafkos Kontemeniotis

Quickly. Name the most prominent jazz pianist born in Cyprus, but now living in New York City.

That person can only be Glafkos Kontemeniotis, who has been performing in plain sight and with gratifying musical results in New York since 1988. You may not have recognized Mr. Kontemeniotis as he provided luminous accompaniment for various singers like Mercedes Hall as they enthralled audiences. And you no doubt missed, I would say with 99% certainty, Mr. Kontemeniotis as he played for Greek concerts and celebrations at places like Alice Tully Hall or The Hellenic Cultural Center with the Mikrokosmos Ensemble.

However, the pianist’s progress is well noted on his latest CD, which indeed includes a beautifully expressed piece entitled, naturally, "Progress." The album itself expands upon that composition’s theme and also adopts its name. As Kontemeniotis progresses from the surging, propulsive "Anthrozyte" to the unexpectedly hard-swinging "All about Monk," which contains little of Monk’s dissonance or signature rivulets of upper-register notes, Kontemeniotis proves that he’s an under-recognized force of jazz to be reckoned with. And so are his back-up musicians.

For Kontemeniotis has accomplished one of those sought-after results of a jazz trio: instantaneous energy freely and synaptically exchanged in milliseconds of anticipation, recognition and elaboration. The result: empathy that leads to distinctive cohesion and a unified sound. Despite Kontemeniotis’ devotion to the Greek music he plays in appropriate settings or his adeptness at comping and lying low in the back-up for singers, his trio’s work on Progress is entirely rooted in jazz.

Even though Kontemeniotis obviously finds inspiration in Thelonious Monk’s innovations, he interprets songs like "Well You Needn’t" with his own style consistently throughout the album’s sure progress. "Well You Needn’t," jagged and quirky for sure, conforms to Kontemeniotis’ ever-present penchant for elegance and sometimes swing as well. Indeed, the trio develops its own vamp for "Well You Needn’t," in seven-four yet, at least until the quickened bridge. The irregular meter governs the tune’s interpretation according to Kontemeniotis’ penchants while referring to Monk’s melody. The trio tells us "All about Monk" in Kontemeniotis’ own offbeat composition, still a combination of dynamically charged swing and darting accents, as it reveals more about its own members. Listen to bassist Apostolos Sideris’ aggressive, solid lead-in to the track before it carries through the rest of the piece, adding immeasurably to its irresistible propulsion. Drummer Scott Neumann can be best appreciated on the album’s first track, "Anthrozyte," which coheres largely as a result of his energetic rumbling force, evolving into a tour de force of a solo, complete with a narrative containing a beginning, build-up, climax and ending.

Including an entire range of music in his repertoire, most of which Kontemeniotis composed, the trio slows for an eloquent, understated delivery of his song, "There Won’t Be You." It undergoes several improvisation choruses elevated by the pulse of Sideris’ bass and the varied, dignified colors of Neumann’s work, mostly on tom-toms and splashing cymbals. Kontemeniotis’ "Clouds of Doubt," though freer rhythmically, proceeds in similar fashion, with chiming upper-register chords as a soft, suggestive introduction and then a gradually unfurling, unpredictable reverie. Sideris takes an extended solo on the minor-keyed, impressionistically inspired piece of dissonances, long tones and rubato interpretation. As for standards, Kontemeniotis includes a clip-clopping re-harmonized "Seven Steps to Heaven" of staggered and then rippling phrases; a spare, understated version of "Beautiful Love" that provides opportunity for fluid improvisation and Neumann’s textured solo; and an iridescent, ever so gradually dynamically intensifying treatment of "A Child Is Born."

With the release of Progress, Glafkos Kontemeniotis has presented an album dedicated solely to his interests in jazz, furthered by his earlier studies with Harold Danko and Mike Longo. Even so, Kontemeniotis’ music is unmistakably personal, derived from a style that flows from his own personality, rather than borrowing from other jazz musicians or other genres, proficient though he may be in those as well. Kontementiotis’ sidemen were well chosen, and together they comprise a trio that deserves close listening.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Glafkos Kontemeniotis
  • CD Title: Progress
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Aphesis Music
  • Tracks: Anthrozyte, Seven Steps to Heaven, Progress, There Won’t Be You, A Month Ago, All about Monk, Beautiful Love, Clouds of Doubts, 257, Well You Needn’t, A Child Is Born
  • Musicians: Glafkos Kontemeniotis, piano; Apostolos Sideris, bass; Scott Neumann, drums
  • Rating: Four Stars
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