NEW YORK – Everything happens for a reason, unless it is an accident. It is not known what became of the mutual friendships that brought together George Xylouris, a Cretan folk musician who plays the lute, and drummer Jim White, an icon of underground music who emerged from the Australian post-punk in Melbourne, but the musical world owes them a debt.
On paper, no recording executive would have put them together, but after meeting “they have forged something surprising and impossible to categorize,” according to the website of the Other Music Recording Co. which will release their debut LP, Goats, October 14.
It can be described however: moving and haunting, a delightful exploration of rhythm, tempo, and melody.
“While coming from different parts of the world and from vastly divergent musical backgrounds, the connection between [them] who perform together as Xylouris White, is palpable from the first note of Goats, the website adds.
Xylouris called the CD “a present to myself, because it gave me the opportunity to play with Jim…He is unique and he opened the door for me to express what I feel without trying too hard,” the music just flowed naturally, he said.
That’s how it was from the beginning.
When Xylouris lived in Melbourne in the early 1990s, White would listen to the Xylouris Ensemble live to his CDs. “I just enjoyed the music, never thinking that I would play it,” White said.
He had some exposure to Greek music. “When I was a kid my mom took me to see Theodorakis,” but that didn’t come to anything.
His first trip to Greece was in the mid-1990s with Dirty Three.
Xylouris eventually sat in with White’s group, Dirty Three, which featured a unique instrumental line-up of violin, guitar and drums.
Asked what it was like to sit down and start playing the lute with them, he said “It was easy and difficult at the same time.”
“From the first time we played, doing some rhythmic phrases, it was like just having a conversation,” Xylouris said. “It felt at the same time very old and very new,” White agreed that it was a new experience that felt familiar – a harbinger of the soulfulness that would permeate their music.
They found that rehearsals were unnecessary. “The concept was that you come with your sound” and just play, Xylouris said.
Their paths to music could not have been more different. George’s father, Antonis Xylouris is known as Psarandonis, a world-renowned singer and lyra player, and his uncle, Nikos Xylouris, is “arguably one of the most iconic Greek performers of all time.”
Music also flowed into him from his mother Katerina’s side. She had 13 brothers and sisters, whom George said were all meraklides – good singers and dancers and passionate singers who appreciated music: “They sang and cried at the same time.”
White’s talent seems to have emerged out of the blue from a non-musical family, which added to music’s allure when he discovered it at 14. “It was like something foreign to me. My family loved music, but [making music] was a mystery to me.”
Their favorite piece on the CD is “Pulling the Bricks.” Xylouris said it just emerged whole without prior thought once the engineer pushed the record button.
“Jim looked at me with that expression on his face that said ‘what are we going to play’ and I looked at him and I said ‘this’ and we started playing.”
It was a complete improvisation – and neither of them had ever played jazz.
Xylouris and White are getting ready to go on tour in America, which will begin with a performance on October 2 at Union Pool in Brooklyn.