Maeandros Ensemble
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Maeandros Ensemble

Jersey City, New Jersey, United States | INDIE

Jersey City, New Jersey, United States | INDIE
Band World Folk


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"An Astonishing Debut from the Next World Music Star"

Remember this name: Mavrothi Kontanis. You heard it here first. In a remarkably ambitious and even more remarkably successful display of musicianship, scholarship and archivism, oud virtuoso Kontanis is simultaneously releasing two brilliant albums of Greek songs, with a cd release show at Alwan for the Arts this Friday, June 13 at 9. The first, Sto Kafesli Sokaki is an alternately haunting and rousing collection of Greek, Turkish and Cypriot songs from the 1920s and 30s influenced by the influx of refugees from Turkey who brought their slinky shakecharmer music with them in the years after World War I. The second, the ironically titled Wooden Heart also includes a mix of sensationally good, vintage obscurities along with several equally superb original songs. While Kontanis’ core audience will obviously be those who speak the Greek and Turkish of the lyrics on these two cds, any adventurous listener, anywhere in the world will find each of them an irresistible melodic feast. It’s impossible to imagine anyone hearing one of these albums without wanting the other.

As a player, Kontanis has sensational chops: he’s in the same league as Simon Shaheen, but more terse, less inclined to wild excursions than meticulously plotted conspiracies among the notes. More often than not, he leaves it to the band to embellish the melodies, especially violinist Megan Gould, who serves as lead instrumentalist for the most part here since many of the songs on Sto Kafesli Sokaki are basically a duo between her and Kontanis. Clarinetist Lefteris Bournias - whose breathtaking, lightning-fast solo on Arapina, from the first cd shows off his scorching chops - with politiki lyra player Phaedon Sinis and somewhat ubiquitous percussionist Timothy Quigley (who propels the delightfully fun Chicha Libre) round out the cast.

Disabuse yourself of any preconceptions you may have about Greek music: this isn’t what you’d typically hear in your average taverna in Astoria on a Saturday night. Rather, it harkens back to the era just before the psychedelic, hash-smoking, politically charged music known as rebetika emerged in the Greek resistance underground in the late 20s and 30s. Both the originals and the covers on these two albums blend the hypnotic ambience of Levantine dance music with the often savage chromaticism of Turkish and gypsy music, set to a tricky, circular Mediterranean beat. Most of it is dark and pensive: highlights of the first cd include the viscerally anguished Armenita as well as Etsli Marika Dhehome, featuring a pointillistically incisive solo from Anastassia Zachariadou on kanun (a sort of Mediterranean zither, similar to the cimbalom, played with mallets to produce a pinging, staccato sound, like an amplified harpsichord but with more reverb). Ouzo is a deliberately maudlin number, Kontanis’ amusingly over-the-top vocal rendition of the narrator’s beer goggles (or, in this case, ouzo goggles) making them obvious even to non-Greek speakers.

Wooden Heart (referring to what an oud is made of) is where Kontanis’ heart is, an equal display of soul and chops. A recent live show found the band doing a somewhat lackluster version of the opening cut, Wooden Kite: the imaginatively crescendoing version on the cd is anything but. Kontanis opens the shape-shifting, violin-fueled original Nikriz Longa with a thoughtful, incisive taksim (solo improvisation) as he does onstage with most of his material, including the following instrumental Ushak Saz Semal.

To Kontanis’ immense credit (at least to Western ears), it’s next to impossible to distinguish his originals from the archival gems on these albums (where he found them is anyone’s guess – and probably the equivalent of a doctorate worth of digging). For fans of great bands like Magges, Lumiscent Orchestrii and the aforementioned Simon Shaheen’s older work, as well as anyone caught up in the gypsy music craze, both these cds are must-owns. What the Silk Road Ensemble was to the early zeros, Kontanis is to the later part of this decade, a master of many styles but most of all his own, for that reason one of the most exciting new artists to come around in the last several years.
- Lucid Culture

"MAVROTHI KONTANIS: Sto Kafesli Sokaki; Ksylini Kardia"

When we first met John Bilezikjian, he was the first and last word in oud playing and the hardest working man in show business this side of the other JB. Kontanis brings a heavy Greek ethnic side to oud and makes it sound like opium den bellydance music even though it’s deep, ethnically rooted music based in upheavals related to the community around World War I. He presents it in such a way that you don’t realize this is a pair of historically significant interpretations. Not gunning for JB’s crown but positioning himself to be there if the top gun spot opens up, this is some ear opening stuff. Very simple in it’s production and presentation, world beat ears will find it all something new even if Greek ethnic music fans might have this imprinted on their DNA. Check them out. - Midwest Record

"Μαυρουδής Κοντάνης: Ξύλινη καρδιά | Στο καφεσλί σο"

Άρωμα Ανατολής από τη Δύση. Αυτό το συνολικό τίτλο θα μπορούσαμε να δώσουμε στις δύο μουσικές εκδόσεις που κυκλοφόρησαν στα μέσα Ιουνίου του τρέχοντος έτους στην άλλη πλευρά του Ατλαντικού και τιτλοφορούνται «Ξύλινη καρδιά» και «Καφεσλί σοκάκι». Ηθικός και φυσικός αυτουργός, ένας νεαρός ελληνοαμερικανός μουσικός και ερμηνευτής, ο Μαυρουδής Κοντάνης. Ο Μαυρουδής Κοντάνης κατάγεται από τη Χαλκιδική και γεννήθηκε στην Πενσιλβάνια των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών. Έχοντας δασκάλους ορισμένους από τους πιο διάσημους και αναγνωρισμένους δασκάλους, ασχολήθηκε από νωρίς με τη μεγάλη του αγάπη το ούτι, ένα παραδοσιακό όργανο που η χροιά του χαρακτηρίζει τις δύο αυτές δουλειές. Αυτοδίδακτος ερμηνευτής. Θα διακρίνουμε εύκολα στη φωνή και στον τρόπο που τραγουδά την αγάπη σε αυτό το είδος μουσικής.
Το «Καφεσλί σοκάκι» και η «Ξύλινη καρδιά» ηχογραφήθηκαν σχεδόν ταυτόχρονα και το υλικό τους βασίζεται σε σπάνιες ηχογραφήσεις παραδοσιακών, σμυρνέϊκών και αρμένικων τραγουδιών από τις 78 στροφές, που εκδόθηκαν πριν από τον πόλεμο, από το 1920 μέχρι την έναρξή του. Δύο δουλειές που μοιάζουν, αλλά είναι και αρκετά διαφορετικές. Ο ίδιος ο Μαυρουδής Κοντάνης είναι υπεύθυνος για την παραγωγή.
Στο «Καφεσλί σοκάκι» θα συναντήσουμε δεκαέξι (16) παραδοσιακά τραγούδια που παραπέμπουν σε σπουδαία ονόματα του παραδοσιακού, σμυρνέικου και ρεμπέτικου τραγουδιού όπως ο Παναγιώτης Τούντας, η Ρόζα Εσκενάζυ, η Ρίτα Αμπατζή, και άλλοι. Χαρακτηριστικό του δίσκου είναι το λιτό παίξιμο και η λιτή, βυζαντινή ερμηνεία που οδηγούν το δρόμο μας στις πρωτότυπες ερμηνείες με απόλυτο σεβασμό σ’ αυτές.
Η «Ξύλινη καρδιά» περιλαμβάνει παρόμοιο ρεπερτόριο, αλλά εστιάζει στο ούτι και στο ρόλο αυτού του εκπληκτικού οργάνου της ανατολής, στην παραδοσιακή μουσική της Ελλάδας και της Μικράς Ασίας, με αρκετά ορχηστρικά κομμάτια. Το αποτέλεσμα δυναμώνουν τόσο η διαφαινόμενη βαθιά γνώση της μουσικής και της ιστορίας της όπως διαμορφώθηκε στις αρχές του περασμένου αιώνα στα ελληνικά και μικρασιατικά παράλια, μέσα από την επιλογή ενός τέτοιου υλικού, όσο ο ίδιος ο Κοντάνης και οι πολύ καλοί μουσικοί, Έλληνες και Αμερικανοί που βρήκαν έναν απλό τρόπο να προσεγγίσουν δύσκολες μουσικές.

Ας αναφέρουμε τα περιεχόμενα των δύο αυτών cds και τους συντελεστές τους.

Στο καφεσλί σοκάκι
1. Δεν πάω πια στο Γαλατά
2. Από λίγο λίγο
3. Έτσι Μαρίκα δέχομαι
4. Ούζο
5. Αρμενίτσα
6. Ο Σεβνταλής
7. Μια Σμυρνιά στη Κοκκινιά
8. Για μια χήρα παιχνιδιάρα
9. Σαμπά Ταξίμι
10. Το τραγούδι της Βεργινίας
11. Μανές Χιουζάμ Ντερτλί
12. Αγιάτρευτος καημός
13. Τα μάτια σου με κάψανε
14. Αραπίνα μου σκερτσόζα
15. Δεν θέλεις να με παντρευτείς
16. Mavili

Ξύλινη καρδιά
1. Χαρταετός
2. Mahur Şarkı
3. Nikriz Longa
4. Uşşak Ud Taksimi
5. Uşşak Saz Semaisi
6. Ο Τάταρος
7. Άπονη Τουρκάλα
8. Ζαφείρια είναι τα μάτια σου
9. Εφέ μου
10. Φονιάς θα γίνω
11. Της Ξενητιάς ο πόνος

Οι μουσικοί:
Λευτέρης Μπουρνιάς, κλαρινέτο
Megan Gould, βιολί
Αναστασία Ζαχαριάδου, κανονάκι
Timothy Quigley, κρουστά
Phaedon Sinis, πολίτικη λύρα
Μαυρουδής Κοντάνης, ούτι, φωνή

Συμπέρασμα: Ακούστε το δίσκο, σα μία διαφορετική προσέγγιση δύσκολων τραγουδιών, που λίγοι τολμούν να ανασύρουν από το χρονοντούλαπο. Κι όταν αυτή η προσέγγιση της μουσικής της ανατολής έρχεται από τη δύση, αν μη τι άλλο, αξίζει της προσοχής μας. -

"Mavrothi Kontanis & the Maeandros Ensemble"

“...Mavrothi Kontanis and his terrific quintet (featuring Greek clarinet star Lefteris Bournias) breath new life into the Smyrneika cabaret sound and bluesier rebetika standards of pre-war Greece. Emotional yet virtuosic, Kontanis and company unwind their sensuous dance tunes and nostalgic laments with vigor and deliberation, reimagining a world in which Greek, Turkish, and Armenian styles blended together.” - Village Voice


“The music of Maeandros bandleader Mavrothi Kontanis, a Greek-American oudist and singer from Jersey City, revisits the era before World War I, when the diverse cultures around the Aegean Sea were much better integrated and Turks, Greeks, and Armenians coexisted more or less peacefully. Kontanis makes a specialty of “Smyrneika,” a term usually used to refer to the repertoire that emerged from Turkish cities like Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir). These aren’t musty re-creations, though—the arrangements are lively, the performances are vigorous, and Kontanis’s singing glows with soulfulness and sorrow.” - Chicago Reader


Στο Καφεσλί Σοκάκι (Sto Kafesli Sokaki) 2008
Ξύλινη Καρδιά (Wooden Heart) 2008



The group Maeandros (MEnu - nu + andros = Maeandros) was created by oud player, singer and songwriter Mavrothi Kontanis, and performs traditional folk, urban and classical music of Greece and the Near East, as well as original compositions in both Greek and English.

The members of Maeandros share a deep love and respect for the traditional music of the Aegean Sea region, and move audiences of all backgrounds with their emotional and virtuosic performances.

The ensemble also enjoys participating in educational workshops to help preserve and pass on this truly rich and diverse musical tradition.

In October of 2009, the Maeandros Ensemble was presented by the World Music Institute and Symphony Space in a very successful and moving concert, and soon after Mavrothi Kontanis was invited by the World Music Institute and The Juilliard School to teach a master class in Makam and Near Eastern music theory to a mixed class of instrumentalist, singers and composers.