Monday, September 19, 2016

Lefteris Kordis releases Mediterrana (Goddess of Light)

Lefteris Kordis is an Athens-born and Boston-based pianist. Mediterrana (Goddess of Light), his fifth album as a leader, is an engaging, Tristano-esque exploration of traditional Mediterranean sounds.  The album was released July 26, 2016 on Inner Circle Music (INCM 052CD).

Kordis has been in the US, often in the orbit of Boston's esteemed New England Conservatory, for nearly two decades, accumulating jazz credentials with the likes of Steve Lacy, Greg Osby, and Sheila Jordan. For this record he's assembled a piano-trio-plus-guests, with drummer Ziv Ravitz and bassist Petros Klampanis at the core. Boston stalwart John Lockwood also performs on one track along with numerous other guests.

Kordis comes from a heady post-bebop tradition. He's absorbed not just the language of Tristano, but also of two Boston piano icons. From Ran Blake, he borrows a wild harmonic imagination and an impeccable touch: hear how he finds unfamiliar beauty in "And I Love Her", by the Beatles. And from studies with the influential late Boston pedagogue (and fellow Greek-American), Charlie Banacos, he's developed ear-bending facility. Kordis has the fingers and the musical mind to immediately follow any hint of redirection from his quick-witted bandmates.

His thorough connection to Greek music begins in heritage - Kordis is the grandson of a Byzantine cantor - but goes much deeper. Paralleling his impressive career as a young jazz pianist, Kordis has quickly become an in-demand instrumentalist in the international Hellenic community, collaborating with noted composer Mikis Theodorakis, traditional clarinetist Vasilis Saleas, and the singer Panayotis Lalezas, among others.

A variety of timbres on this album highlight the Hellenic tinge. Harris Lambrakis, on ney, opens the first track (In the Land of Phrygians) with grit and an earthy, disruptive joy. His playing is full of intimate ornamentation and inflections common to 'folk' music but too little heard in the context of modern jazz. Vasilis Kostas - on laouto (a Greek fretted lute), Roni Eytan - on chromatic harmonica, Sergio Martinez - on percussion, and Alec Spiegelman - on clarinet, all inject raw and unguarded lyricism into the music.

So does Kordis; with an analog synthesizer (as found in many Eastern Mediterranean wedding bands), he bends and wails and moans like an Epirot clarinetist. What's more technically impressive is how he bends and wails and moans, in equal measure, on that unforgivingly tempered and quintessentially Western instrument, the piano!

You may, of course, listen with none of that in mind. All of the aforementioned instrumental mastery is in service of the music. And Mediterrana is an engaging and original set of music by a pianist constantly creating new sounds.

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