Two Visionary Greek Musicians Challenge Tradition on THE SOUL OF EPIRUS – Out October 4;

Veteran Clarinetist PETROLOUKAS HALKIAS and Young Laouto Master VASILIS KOSTAS

Improvise on the Soulful and Mysterious Music of Northwestern Greece;

Boston-based Kostas, a Member of Danilo Perez’s Global Messengers,

 Creates A New Place for the Greek Lute

NEW YORK CITY: Oct 5 at Holy Trinity Cathedral, 337 E. 74th St., NY, NY 10021 (7pm)

BOSTON: Oct. 6 at Taxiarchae Greek Orthodox Church, 25 Bigelow Ave, Watertown, MA 02472 (4pm)

RICHMOND: Oct 12 & 13 at Richmond Folk Festival (Oct 12: 12pm & 5:15pm / Oct 13: 4:15pm)


VIDEO: “Skaros”

The story behind The Soul of Epirus begins years ago, in a little village in the heart of northwestern Greece. It’s the story of a young Greek boy named Vasilis who would grow to become an acclaimed musician, performing with some of the world’s best. But before that, there was the village, and a family who lived immersed in the soulful mystique of Greek folk songs. During seasonal festivities, the entire village would gather in the main square and Vasilis would dance to the sound of the clarinet. He didn’t know it then, but eventually he would become a master of the stringed instrument known as laouto – the Greek version of the lute – and create an innovative new place for it in contemporary music.

On October 4th, the release of The Soul of Epirus (Artway Technotropon) marks the culmination of a lifelong exploration of the beauty inherent in the music of Epirus – its slow tempos, reflecting the isolated nature of this mountainous region close to Albania, and its haunting pentatonic scales, based on five notes instead of the more common seven-note scale. A collaboration between Berklee College of Music graduate and Global Messengers member Vasilis Kostas on laouto and veteran clarinet master Petroloukas Halkias, the album delivers a rare opportunity to go beyond the usual clichés associated with Greek pop, illuminating the gorgeous melodies and superb musicianship to be found in Epirus’ folk traditions of decades past, its ability to evoke both the inescapable sadness of the human condition and its life-affirming joy. 

“The dialogue between Petroloukas’ clarinet and my laouto opens up a new window into traditional music,” reflects Kostas in a lilting Greek cadence that resonates with the accent of his hometown. “As a kid, dancing in those country festivities allowed me to experience that specific groove not only through my fingers and mind – by playing an instrument – but through my entire body.”

When Kostas turned 15, his grandfather introduced him to his friend Andreas Fakos, a clarinet player who had experienced fame in Australia and retired in the village of Klimatia, in Epirus. “I spent the next three years studying with him,” he recalls. “The lessons would last four to five hours. He would challenge me to learn the harmonies of old Epirus tunes and play lines designed for violin and clarinet on the guitar. Andreas would play his clarinet in rehearsals and start crying, overwhelmed by the depth and emotional power to be found in our music. I later understood what a gift it was to grow up with such a teacher.”

By the time he was 18, Kostas dreamed of establishing himself as a jazz guitarist. He auditioned for a spot at Berklee College of Music and was granted a scholarship. Once in Boston, he was chosen as part of a group of musicians that would travel to Spain representing traditional Greek music. Before leaving, he realized that he wanted an authentic 8-stringed laouto to be his instrument of choice as a tribute to the music of his childhood. He dropped the guitar and practiced a difficult folk piece in the trademark Petroloukas Halkias style – “Skaros,” which ended up The Soul of Epirus CD – before flying to Madrid.

“As it turns out, two legends of flamenco were present at the show: Pepe Habichuela and José Mercé,” Kostas says with a nervous laugh. “Mercé came to see me after the show and told me: ‘Young man, the laouto is the future for you; it will lead you down unexpected paths.’ It was the green light that I was looking for. I returned to Berklee as a full time laouto student, learning to play Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps,’ learning to sight read and improvise.” 

In 2015, Halkias traveled to the U.S. for a concert and Kostas performed with him for the first time. Halkias had developed a style of spiraling, highly complex melodic lines pioneered in Epirus by virtuoso clarinetist Kitsos Harisiadis during the ‘20s and ‘30s. Halkias was the only musician who preserved Harisiadis’ complex aesthetic, allowing it to survive for over 90 years since its inception.

When Kostas performed “Skaros,” the veteran master told him that he played it on the laouto with the exact same phrasing that he favored on the clarinet. He encouraged Kostas to continue delving into his repertoire, but also to “let himself go,” creating extended musical phrases on his instrument. Their artistic partnership took off with the spontaneity of two musicians who hail from neighboring villages and speak the same dialect. For the first time in the history of this unique repertoire, the laouto assumed equal footing with the clarinet as an improvisational instrument.

At the time, Kostas had graduated with a Masters degree from Berklee and was invited by visionary Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Pérez to become a member of his group Global Messengers, effectively bringing the laouto into a refined jazz context. But the idea of making an album going back to the music of his youth was impossible to resist.

“When Petroloukas told me it was time to think of our first album, I felt like the earth was shaking under my feet,” says Kostas. “He has been a musical hero not only to me but to my family and many other families. I was very happy that it was he who suggested recording an album together.”

“Throughout my life, I have tried to express different emotions through my clarinet,” adds Halkias. “Happiness, sadness, vulnerability, pain. There’s no end to music, and it is my deepest hope that a new generation of musicians will take what we created and develop it even further.”

The Soul of Epirus was recorded in Athens, during three days of feverish collaboration at the renowned Sierra Studios. Kostas then returned to Boston, where he spent additional time at Futura Productions adding new material and perfecting the mix. Eight of the album’s nine tracks are old Epirus classics – songs about rivers and villages, shepherds and laments for the dead - with one original composition by Kostas, “To Parapono tou Laouto”, paying tribute to Andreas Fakos, his first music teacher.

“It is rare for a master of Petroloukas’ stature to connect with a musician from a younger generation,” Kostas concludes. “He appears to be very enthused by our collaboration. And I’m eternally grateful for that.”

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