The Greek Project featuring Charles Lloyd & Maria Farantouri

City Recital Hall, June 4

CL & MF res
Photo: Yannis Falkonis.

In layering jazz into traditional and contemporary Greek music Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri miraculously avoid creating another anaemic cultural fusion (to join the world-wide infestation). The triumph is how remarkably intact and separate the two elements remain while intertwining, like two lovers whose individual identities are not erased by a romance.

Of course they could not begin to intertwine were there no commonality, and that may be best described as a deep sadness couched in beauty. Also common was the absence of histrionics in conveying that sadness, these artists being rarities who express truthful rather than exaggerated emotions.

Farantouri’s sonorous contralto draped itself across the melodies with a bewitching lightness of phrasing. Dolour and joy could mingle, so on Requiem she sounded simultaneously like a widow singing at her husband’s funeral and a mother at her sons’ birthday.

Lloyd played flute and tarogato (including in an exotic exchange with Eric Harland’s drumming on Ramanujan), but mostly it was his tenor saxophone that sprawled across the music’s foreground. He daubed a blues with big, braying colours and breathily combined with Farantouri’s voice on Prayer.

Socratis Sinopoulos’s bowed lyra could be sweet or rasping, and to hear it improvise against a jazz rhythm section made one giddy with the resonances of jazz’s African ancestry connecting with the roots of European civilisation.

Harland was wondrous throughout, brilliantly controlling his instrument’s dynamics in a challenging room, and applying extraordinary virtuosity in the service of an agile imagination. Bassist Reuben Rogers was sometimes a little low in an otherwise glorious sound mix, but not enough to lose the litheness he brought to the music, which became a lurching swagger when he soloed on the blues.

Unfortunately Lloyd’s regular pianist, Jason Moran, was unavailable to multiply the sparks on this tour. His replacement, Takis Farazis, was more restrained, offering gorgeous, water-like piano playing in one solo introduction.

A rousing Yanni Mou closed the night, and the lips of many expatriate Greeks were mouthing the words.