Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri: Athens Concert

Athens Concert is, bar none, a 2011 highlight. The only problem is, in what category does it belong?

Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri

Athens Concert

Label: ECM
US Release Date: 2011-09-13
UK Release Date: 2011-08-29

Athens Concert is what happens when a group of musicians don't commit to a particular genre. Charles Lloyd is something of a modern ambassador for the old guard of jazz sax. Maria Farantouri is a legendary Greek singer who has navigated her operatic style through her homeland's dramatic themes of love, loss, exile, mid-century protest and not knowing where your boat is headed. From a thousand-foot view, you may think that there is very little overlap in their careers or that perhaps they are mutually exclusive. But a closer look at Lloyd's recent career, particularly his work with pianist Jason Moran, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers, makes it plain as day that the veteran saxophonist's current interest in jazz is taking him beyond the confines of what it means to be a post-bop legend in the 21st century. His 2008 album with the same combo, Rabo de Nube, was the sound of jazz music ebbing and flowing, showing you one thing then giving you another. Parts of it were intensely focused and other parts were gloriously non-committal. Take that latter trait and carry it through to Athens Concert, an in-concert recording at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus courtesy of Lloyd, his aforementioned band, Farantouri, and two additional Greek musicians on lyra and piano. Followers of Charles Lloyd will not be shocked; this double album only affirms the fact that the man takes his music where it wants to go.

Maria Farantouri has a very mellow and warm voice, even when the music is getting kicked up a few notches. If there is a better match of female voice to Lloyd and company's bleedings of jazz and world classics, I don't want to know what it is. Her voice on tunes such as "Kratissa ti zoi mou (I Kept Hold of My Life)", a song she introduced to Lloyd, seems to do no wrong. "Blow Wind," a song that Charles Lloyd actually had in mind for Farantouri to sing beforehand, could actually bear a little more intrusion from her. Then again, her utterance of the song's title makes a good metaphorical case of how, at times, one can forget that the wind is present.

The album's centerpiece is the "Greek Suite," a combination of early hymns, traditional melodies from Greece's neighboring islands, and music by Mikis Theodorakis and Nikos Kypourgos with the two of the three movements separated by "Taxidi sta Kythera" and the meditative “Prayer”. This is where Greek musician Socratis Sinopoulos comes out to perform on the lyra, a three-stringed bowed instrument that satisfies the music of Crete's need for something that serves as a cross between a violin and a saw. Sometimes Lloyd's saxophone harmonizes with Farantouri here and sometimes Sinopoulos' lyra does. Unless one is paying very close attention, it's rather easy to let one slide from your ear as the other enters. But the segue of "Prayer" into the second movement of the "Greek Suite" is where things start to get deep. Not deep in a condescending you-won't-get-this-because-it's-sophisticated sort of way, but in a way that wipes clean all of those pesky labels that prevent people from thoroughly enjoying world music mash-ups. The harmonies deepen; the peaks stretch and the rhythms start to sway with a profound sense of instinct that could only come from a well-calibrated band.

And, as expected, Lloyd's band is outstanding. Jason Moran's decisive playing, a delightful hybrid of classical moods hand-leading a jazz musician, elevates the musicality transferred from one member of the combo to another. Eric Harland spends an admirable amount of time backing off and letting the music guide him rather than the other way around (not that I mind his aggressive side – his album as bandleader, Voyager: Live by Night, was terrific). Takis Farazis, Greek musician and resident arranger for the traditional themes to Athens Concert, provides additional piano for the "Greek Suite." And though it's difficult to tell just where in the music two pianos are taking over, that is most likely a very good thing.

Athens Concert is, bar none, a 2011 highlight. The only problem is, in what category does it belong? You could spend 87 minutes trying to figure out if it's jazz, world music, or some offshoot of the two, but that's futile. Just absorb and enjoy. It's impossible not to.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.