Athens, Greece - origin
of democracy, birthplace of the Olympics, and the inspirational setting for tenor
saxophonist, drummer, and musical explorer Dimitri Vassilakis.
On Parallel Lines,
Vassilakis latest, he echoes Balkan rhythms with jazz conversations and
grooves. I keep a reference to make the listener understand where I come
from, says Vassilakis. I try to integrate into modern jazz and not
make a fusion of ethnic style. For Vassilakis, Parallel Lines is a metaphor
for communication. Sometimes we live our own lives, but we are all part
of the same universe, he says. It is just the way we perceive time
and reality is different.
Counterpoint carries an exceptionally conversational quality in Vassilakis
trio setting. The absence of vertical block chords from the piano frees the music
from what Vassilakis calls horizontal communication. Since the bass
and saxophone lines can only express linear ideas, single tones are uttered between
the instruments. By focusing on the groove and the idea of communication through
music, Vassilakis tonally expresses how so often people meet, divert in other
directions, and later meet again.
In the same way tenor sax player Sonny Rollins told a story through sound in the
1960s, Vassilakis plays horn lines over looping bass lines and drum grooves. The
Parallel Lines Groove captures the essence of his innovative approach.
Like Bill Evans Conversations with Myself, Vassilakis recorded tenor saxophone
on one speaker and recorded soprano sax on the other to melodically converse with
himself. This intrapersonal dialogue thickens as he introduces his voice as another
form of instrumentation. On the groove tracks, Vassilakis nearly records as a
one-man band supplying not only saxophone and vocalese, but also the drum grooves.
Although he covers multiple parts throughout the album, Vassilakis notes that
there was often just one take for each track. There was not a lot of editing,
he notes. I tried to be as real as I could to keep the live feeling.
On Ocean, Vassilakis set out to record the vastness one gets when
confronted with the open sea. For him, this ocean is the Aegean Sea, but the tune
lends itself to thoughts of ones ocean of familiarity. Interestingly, the
drums conjure thoughts of Ahmad Jamals light samba rhythm on Poinciana.
While Vassilakis did not make this literal connection during composition, in retrospect,
he agrees that it has a similar flavor. Perhaps he subconsciously picked up the
rhythm while playing drums behind Jamals piano/guitar/bass recording Chamber
Music of the New Jazz. I like his touchvery elegant and warm,
Little One was sweetly recorded for his son Nestor, whos now
the ripe old age of five and a half. On The Drum Think Vassilakis
plays both instruments once again. Immersed in sonic conversation, Vassilakis
enables the drum set to participate in the dialogue by tuning the drumheads to
select tones. He emphasizes, I tuned them very precisely, so one may hear
the drums play a bass line.
Vassilakis classical training helped him with sound and broadened his understanding
of music. During his tenure at the London College of Music and Royal Academy,
he earned a diploma for saxophone. Today, Vassilakis continues his academic ventures,
as a professor of jazz ensemble, theory, and history at Thessaloniki University
in northern Greece. While his classical training helped to facilitate technical
runs, his emotion stems from his birthplace. The ritualistic element has
the intensity of Greek rhythms, he remarks. Its in my DNAa
festive approach to music that incorporates earthy elements. His Balkan
intonation is demonstrated by his careful use of microtones. His timbre is soaked
in thick, slow harmonic molasses. Because I am Greek, I listen to sounds
from my heritage, ever filtering sounds I hear through jazz.
In a constant quest for personal sound, Vassilakis emphasizes the importance of
developing a uniform sound like John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter, but then looks
beyond whats been recorded to develop his own concept. For inspiration,
he looks to Branford Marsalis intense tenor sax playing his trio album The
Dark Keys. Notably, drummer Jeff Tain Watts plays drums on both Marsalis
album and on Parallel Lines. Additionally, he reveres Eric Dolphys bass
clarinet and alto sax romp on Out to Lunch, and Sonny Rollinss bold, in-the-pocket
approach on East Broadway Rundown. Whether at the forefront of the band on tenor
and soprano saxophones, in a supporting role on the drum set, or supplying atmosphere
with his voice, Vassilakis sets himself apart from his idols while striving evermore
for his personal sound.