“Melos” is a continuation of the work begun by German cellist Anja Lechner and Greek pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos on “Chants, Hymns and Dances” in 2004. That recording, with its cello/piano arrangements of G.I. Gurdjieff’s compositions, threw a fresh light on the music of the Greek-Armenian philosopher, effectively allowing it to breathe in new ways. The album was completed with music of Tsabropoulos, proposing a “polychromatic mosaic” based on fragments of Byzantine hymns. The programme met with both critical and popular success, made its way onto classical charts around the world, and Lechner and Tsabropoulos toured widely with it.
The new album again features compositions of Tsabropoulos and Gurdjieff, but recalibrates the ratio. This time the music of Tsabropoulos forms an arc into which three clearly-etched Gurdjieff pieces are set: “Tibetan Dance”, “Sayyid Dance” and “Reading From A Sacred Book”. The notion of Greece as a doorway to the orient is further explored, and Bzyantine hymns are again referenced, but there is more space for expressive playing. Although Tsabropoulos and Lechner are, firstly, classical musicians, each has considerable experience with improvisation: already on the “Chants” project this facilitated deeper insights into Gurdjieff’s musical world (where pieces derived in part from folk and religious traditions were fixed in Thomas de Hartmann’s piano transcriptions). The logical next step is taken on “Melos”: Tsabropoulos’s strong, evocative melodies are further developed in modal improvisation and the ‘band’ itself, the core duo of Lechner/Tsabropoulos, is now augmented with a third player, Italian drummer U.T. Gandhi, who adds subtle shadings and pulsations, both embellishing the music and gently nudging it forward.
Vassilis Tsabropoulos was born in Athens, and attended the conservatories of Athens, Paris and Salzburg, before completing his studies at the Juilliard School, where his teachers included Rudolf Serkin and Tatyana Nikolayeva. He is well-known in his homeland as an interpreter of the classical tradition, and has performed internationally as a soloist and under conductors including Vladimir Ashkenazy and Robert Janssens. He is also highly regarded as a jazz pianist, and was encouraged in his improvisational activities by Chick Corea. Tsabropulos recorded two CDs for ECM with Arild Andersen’s trio: “Achirana” and “The Triangle”. A piano solo album “Akroasis” – also a reckoning with Byzantine hymns – was recorded in 2002 (a second solo album is in preparation).
Anja Lechner studied with Jan Polasek, Heinrich Schiff and Janos Starker. She is a founder member of the Rosamunde Quartet, whose ECM recordings (of music by Tigran Mansurian, Thomas Larcher, Haydn, Shostakovich and more) have received praise on both sides of the Atlantic, and is also featured on Valentin Silvestrov’s Grammy-nominated chamber music album “leggiero, pesante”. Lechner has also long been involved with aspects of improvisation in different traditions. Her interest in Tango Nuevo led to the Rosamunde Quartet’s “Kultrum” collaboration with Argentinian bandoneonist/composer Dino Saluzzi, to many duo concerts with the bandoneonist and to the album “Ojos Negros” (designated a 5-star “masterpiece” in US magazine Down Beat). Lechner also plays in projects with Ukrainian pianist Misha Alperin (albums “Night”, “Her First Dance”), and French pianist François Couturier (“Nostalghia - Song for Tarkovsky”).
U.T. Gandhi, born Umberto Trombetta, was previously heard on ECM with bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi (“Juan Condori”, 2005). He has played in many contexts with Italian and international improvisers from Enrico Rava and Gianluigi Trovesi to Lee Konitz and Miroslav Vitous. Essentially a self-taught player - a ‘natural musician’ in Saluzzi’s estimate - Gandhi augmented his intuitive knowledge by attending master-classes with Jimmy Cobb and Peter Erskine.
Vassilis Tsabropoulos, Anja Lechner and U.T. Gandhi give the Greek premiere of the “Melos” material at the Ymittos Festival in Athens on September 7. On October 24, the trio plays the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Other dates are in preparation.