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30 Jan

Alekos Vretos Interview

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Greek oudist, pianist and composer Alekos Vretos has been merging jazz, Arabic, Greek and Latin music in a masterful blend of sounds from traditional instruments, such as the oud or the nay. As a bandleader, he has developed a unique atmosphere for his music: keeping traditional sound in the front line, he expands it through jazz improvisation and exploding rhythmic development. We have met Alekos for a little chat...

1- What were your biggest musical influences & where do you get your inspiration from ? 
I have so many, it would be impossible to mention them all. But I can name a few from all the parts of music that I am involved with. Miles Davis is a big influence so is Coltrane for jazz, Takis Paterelis and Markos Alexiou also. From my Eastern side it would be Simon Shaheen, Marcel Khalife, Anuar Brahem also I would include Haig Yazdjian.My inspiration comes from talking to people like myself. Exchanging views and opinions about life, music, politics even the jokes get me to put it to music.

2- How did you choose to play this instrument which is not very usual in jazz ? What make it special to you ?
It came to my hands by way of a friend who is not longer with us, a great guitar player by the name Christos Karakatsanis. He brought it to school in Boston where we were both studying at Berklee and I fell in love with its sound mostly and the ability to produce more than the 12 notes of western music. The aristocratic and soft sound of it got me right away and turned me over to the study of Arabic music. Now I merge both.

3- How would you characterize your music ? Jazz, Ethnic, world ? it has been written that your music is “… a clever mix of Arabic, Jazz, Latin and Greek elements, a World-Jazz genre if you please” Do you think it is a right description ?
World - Jazz is fine by me. The description you mention is written by me so yes I do think it is quite descriptive about my music. Arabic music cause of the melodies, jazz approach to things, Latin elements because I love latin music and its multi rhythmic context and Greek elements because I'm Greek and Greek music is in my DNA I suppose. Though I don't rule out funk, fusion and any other genre that I might like or played before. Good music is good music wherever it comes from as Miles used to say.

4- Your last CD Mergin was released in 2009, and got nice reviews. Today you are about to release a new one. Could you talk to us about it. Quite a different approach than Mergin', my new CD is more mature and it states its bussines right away. It is all about the improve and a sound that balances all the elements we use with a far greater musicality than before. Dimitris Sevdalis, Dimitris Klonis, Dimitris Christopoulos, Eleni Vasileiadi, my self and Spiros Kassimis our sound engineer have been working on the project for a long time now and the music has been shaped by us in our own unique way. With the great guest appearnces of Harris Lambrakis, Vaggelis Paraskevaidis and Kostas Meretakis I believe that the CD will be a fresh new look in the thing we do interpolating jazz with everything else.

5-  What would you like to do next ?
I would like for the band to tour extensively in order to bond more and make new music. In a conversation with Herbie Hancock in the Megaron in 2008, he said that the best time to go in to the studio is right after a tour. So basically I would like to play more in order to create new projects and new music. I have been thinking of doing my music with a band from Senegal for sometime now, after a suggestion by a friend of mine that manages the band. The band likes the idea also and I'm trying to find the funding (abroad unfortunately) in order to do it.

6- You have collaborated with legendary composer Mikis Theodorakis, as well as Gilad Atzmon, Simon Shaheen, Haig Yazdjian, Takis Paterelis and many others . With which musician you have not collaborated with and you would like to ?
The collaborations you mention were cornerstones for me. I learned a lot and went ahead with them. There are of course, musicians I would like to play with that I haven't. To name a few, Ron Carter would be the first among them...though I'm way over my head, but you never know. Marcel Khlaife, Anuar Brahem, Jamey Haddad, Ara Dinkjian, Glen Velez (though I have played with him unofficially), Ibrahim Maalouf among others and all the Greek players because I believe we all should play with each other. Great things can come out of our collaborations with each other.

7-  A comment on Greek jazz musicians you know ?
I could say a lot about everybody because I have been in the game for more than 20 years. In a really quick way: Markos Alexiou, the pioneer of jazz in Greece, his approach in piano playing is out of this world, great teacher. Takis Paterelis, our best jazz musician and educator. All should learn from him. Giorgos Kontrafouris, the worker, great player, all work and no talk, fabulous character, great patron of the younger generation. Dimitris Sevdalis, bomb piano player, great collaborator for more than 6 years. Dimitris Klonis, dear friend, great drummer, I love his approach towards my music a lot. Dimitris Christopoulos, is one of our international musicians and the best bass in the Latin genre.Great players, friends and colleagues are also: Pantelis Benetatos, Yiotis Samaras, Yiannis Papatriantafyllou,Periklis Trivolis, Kostis Christodoulou, Ntinos Manos, Kostas Patsiotis, Dimitris Pantelias, Yiorgos Krommydas and so many others that I appreciate very much as personalities and musicians.

8-  Anything else you like to say about jazz in Greece ….
Jazz music in Greece got very big over the past 15 years. Now we have not only good educated players but people that work around jazz such as promoters, bookers, publicists, websites about jazz (such as Jazzonline.gr that was one of the first, if not the first and it is doing a great job promoting the Greek Jazz Scene), etc. All of these activities are coming together to create a solid Jazz Scene like the ones in Europe and the USA. We are not there yet, but we will get there if we protect our genre like we should. Collaborations with players from abroad, we playing abroad, constantly demanding support from fans and funding from private and/or government sources, "teaching" the club scene that our music is an art and we are not there just to entertain the audiences. We should fight to get our place that belongs to us in the Greek music scene in general so we can be economically independent so we can nurture our talent to the highest levels. I believe that in 10 years from now we will have our place in a global scale like many of us deserve.

Interview Patricia Graire - January 2014

More about Alekos Vretos:  http://www.jazzonline.gr/en/musicians/item/1710-vretos-alekos.html

More about  Mergin:  http://www.jazzonline.gr/en/cd-releases/item/2223-mergin-%E2%80%93-2009.html

More about K on Top http://jazzonline.gr/en/cd-releases/item/2945-k-on-top.html



Last modified on Wednesday, 05 November 2014 08:55