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Culture

Baltazanis’ Musical Cure in NY

 

NEW YORK – Greek musicians and composers first made their mark at New York’s famed jazz venues long ago, but Costas Baltazanis’ presentation of music from his CD “End of Seas” at the Blue Note on February 12 was the latest exclamation point on their musical statements.

Perhaps the Aegean Sea, which can greet you with turmoil or a hint of catastrophe and suddenly, like a forgiving lover, show you a serenity you have never known accounts for Hellenic contributions to the genre, or maybe the passion that infuses most Greek music – especially rebetika – is the inspiration.

Each of the nine pieces from the CD evoked vivid scenes on Friday night after midnight, and that was no accident.

“When I compose I take a cinematic approach…like creating a soundtrack,” reflecting different scenes – like forests or social situations – said Baltazanis, who in 2002 composed the music for the movie “Paradise is a Personal Affair” and created the music for the LaMaMa production of Agamemnon that opens February 18 in New York.

His website notes that “End of Seas” is inspired by his New York experiences.

In the West Village on the 12th , the show had an ethereal beginning with “After the Fight” – the Sea or the lover had calmed down.

Dan Brantigan’s flugelhorn began smooth and silky before turning wild. Addam Klipple fired off crystalline notes from the piano before turning the music from thrilling to intoxicating with this arpeggios. Baltazanis’ liquid guitar blended with Dan Brantigan’s flugelhorn fluidity, contributing to a cocktail that would make the excellent Blue Note bartenders envious had they too not been drunk on the music.

And that was just the beginning. Later Petro Klampanis played the double bass like no one had heard before – with an exotic technique and just a hint of the mysteries from the East – from the depths of the millennia-old joys and suffering of Asia Minor perhaps.

And there were times when Shlomi Cohen on sax jumped in like the rare subway preacher who earns his welcome among weary commuters by blowing their minds with ideas they never considered and taking them to unexpected places.

Drummer Keita Ogawa grounded the melodies and harmonies with rhythm and the entire ensemble never gave a hint that there was very little rehearsal time.

Except for Brantigan, none of them performed on the CD but Baltazanis was thrilled they joined him.

He explained how it isn’t necessary that they play together regularly, first, because he always plays with the top New York musicians, and second because of what he asks of his performers.

“I don’t tell them they must play something exactly as I want it,” and he tells them not to be shy about presenting their own personalities. He loves it because “every time it’s different.”

DEEP LOVE OF MUSIC

“My father played a little guitar. That’s how I met the instrument,” growing up in Athens. His family has roots in very musical places – Baltazanis’ father Thano’s are in Constantinople and his mother Stephania’s in Kefalonia. It’s in the genes too because his sister Fay, who is an executive with Proctor & Gamble in Greece, is not a professional musician, but she plays guitar too.

He came to America to study jazz guitar performance and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He was here for seven years and then returned to Athens where he participated in the city’s Jazz scene.

Baltazanis is also an educator, serving as director at the Nakas Conservatory in Athens and publishing books on music education.

He told TNH that after exhausting what he could accomplished in Greece, he came to New York in 2011.

Asked about his teaching philosophy and how he approaches children he said “I encourage them to play what they love to listen to and perform,” and believes learning music is like a game for children, but that even adults should find it enjoyable.

He is against the traditional, sterile approach of sitting down students and having them practice their scales for two hours.

“It should be a joy,” that is how to motivate children he says. “I give them songs I think they like, but I tell them ‘if it’s something you don’t enjoy let me know, we’ll change it right away.’”

He also plays bass guitar, but he said with excitement that the instrument we would also like to have played is the sax. He loves the way saxophone players can express themselves on their instruments.

He is an honorary sax player.

“I don’t play the guitar like a guitar player,” he told TNH. “I think like a horn player. I always have a horn or a voice in mind when I play.”

The final piece was “Iasis – The Cure” but by then Baltazanis and his friends and the bartenders had everyone feeling no pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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