Sunday, January 19, 2014

Stelios Petrakis - Orion

Stelios PetrakisOrion

I first became aware of Mr. Petrakis through his work with the stringed instrumentation of Ross Daly, and also the Chemirani: a family of profound Persian percussionists.  I purchased this on a whim.
Glad I did.

Bill Bruford, the drummer of Yes, King Crimson, and Earthworks, used a metaphor, "polishing the diamond," once in an interview. That is the best depiction of what Stelios has done with this album; all his work with multi-cultural instrumentalists has been applied to this fruit (Orion) to perfection.

I tend to find much of Greek music to be riotously festive; whirling chains of melodies to a very solid, interesting beat. Two great additions on this disc are the common use of bagpipes, and the use of guitar. To include all the instruments used would be insane. Generally, the album includes rhythm, string, and wind instruments from Greece, Crete, Turkey, Spain, India, northern Africa, Iran, eastern Europe, and the western classical tradition.

What's striking about this album (that doesn't happen as much in the cultural music) is it's blended, symphonic sound. World artists, in collaboration, can seem to add their musical "two cents worth" at all times; leading to everyone jamming out very well, but negating a project's possible breadth. In doing so, the players are very good at creating tracks with a single essence or feeling. This album has a much more premeditatively-symphonic sound; as if many different musical roads & ideas were traveled and ruminated upon before deciding the application within the tune. Any given track will have parts when 'these' instruments play, but 'those' don't, for example, and vice versa. Additionally, each instrumentalist's skills are highlighted, but never dominating for extended periods of time.

Walking through the first four tracks opens doors to show:
Some wonderfully-layered string instrumentation in the intro, and vocals by Mitsos Stavrakakis, whose voice gets more confident and bold with each passing verse:

Syrtos dance tunes in the form of "Pare Me Nyhta" -- a raucous, fast-paced chain of melodies:

Some truly satisfying and entertaining interplay between instruments during the jam section "Orion and Pleione":

To Alogaki Tis Nyhtias, starting out with a most wonderful flamenco-esque guitar intro, moves into beautifully-sung verses, upheld by subtle guitar and slow-rolling bendir (frame drum) beat. The lyrical nature of the melody is accentuated during the chorus harmonies of lyra, cello, and flute:

The strident and mixed instrumentation of "Kainouria Agapi"; a tune which seems to cohesively go 15 different directions:

Track 6 has guitar pioneering the way in the beginning as well, breaking into high-speed Balkan-esque folk nature in no time. Despite the 8 1/2 minute length of the track, it never feels repetitive, continuously moving through a series of different melody variations and choice instruments.

There's lots to love about the Mediterranean-rooted sounds on this album, and its coupling with other elements: flamenco, carnatic (south Indian), Persian, and Balkan. All elements are applied with first-rate production quality, and the musicianship is in complete service of the music as a whole. Maybe the only concerning thing for Stelios Petrakis is that, after making an album of this magnitude, where does one go from here?
-Seth Premo