NEW YORK – It was dark and moody in (Le) Poisson Rouge, the ideal ambience for the dazzling arrangements of classical jazz and contemporary Greek composers performed by the Giorgos Kontrafouris Piano Trio and singer Terry Vakirtzoglou.
The edgy cabaret in Greenwich Village was jammed on May 21with music lovers enjoying drinks, food and the company of friends, making it the perfect place for mid-workweek transcendence.
The Hellenes present were delighted to hear Greek words dancing to a jazz beat. The lyrics of an early piece accented by modern harmonies had an almost existential feel: “Αυτο το χερι ψαχνει να σε βρι μα δεν το ξερι – This hand is searching for you but doesn’t know it.”
Those who wanted to sip and munch to the beat rather than philosophize enjoyed the opportunities the piece presented to each of the musicians to display their virtuosity: Kontrafouris – all fire and ice on the Yamaha piano, Petros Klampanis snapping his big bass fiddle, George Kostelatos with rhythm and pizazz on the drums and Vakirtzoglou’s sultry voice.
The four delighted with deft and imaginary arrangements of well-known Greek music such as the bitter Rebetiko “δε σε θέλω πια δε σε θέλω πια – I don’t want you anymore” and Manos Hatzidakis music was represented by the sweet song “Kemal,” that begins:
“In the land of Ali Baba near the Sea of Babalee, Lived a man who played the zither with a pronoun on his knee.”
The concert was titled “Telling Stories.” The invitation noted “their signature improvisational style,” and promised the band will explore the stories hiding behind the lyrics to rediscover and reinterpret tradition.”
The vow was fulfilled and guests frequently added their own “wow” to the lyrics delivered by the Vakirtzoglou and the music of her friends.
Smile, the poignant song dangling on the edge of heartbreak and hope written by Charlie Chaplin began with enchanting piano passages by Kontrafouris. Vakirtzoglou’s voice then poured on longing and drama.
The crowd that filled the cabaret founded by musicians on the site of the historic Village Gate “to establish a creative asylum for both artists and audiences,” would not let them go.
A standing ovation was gratefully received and rewarded with a bluesy encore composed by Vakirtzoglou.
The young singer thanked the audience, the Onassis Foundation (USA) and Kontrafouris, whom she praised as an artist and her mentor.
Greeks and Philhellenes in the Metropolitan area are looking forward to the completion next year of the renovations to the Onassis Cultural Center which is located in the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue, but in the meantime they appreciate the care taken by Amalia Cosmetatou, Director of Cultural Affairs at Onassis Foundation and Sophia Efthimiatou to locate fine venues for the presentations that have become the heart of Greek-American cultural live in New York.
According to its website, Poisson Rouge is “Dedicated to the fusion of popular and art cultures in music, film, theater, dance, and fine art, the venue’s mission is to revive the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry.”