Xylouris White


The Aurora, January 15

Xylouris res
Photo: Prudence Upton.

If you closed your eyes when the sound reared up like a massive wave you’d swear it was an orchestra, or at least a band. In fact it was just two men playing acoustic instruments. But then George Xylouris (Cretan lute) is a member of the royalty of Greek traditional music, and Jim White (of the Dirty Three) is the most distinctive rock drummer Australia has produced.

Setting White apart is his being a genuine improviser who reinvents a song every time he plays it; a drummer who approaches all he does with an openness devoid of dogma or expectations. The great jazz drummer Tony Williams was awed by the freedom that the Who’s Keith Moon brought to the instrument, and no doubt he would have loved White’s balletic playing for similar reasons. White works off intuition rather than patterns, and he exemplifies one of the most profound lessons of music-making: that the key to generating truly ferocious energy is relaxedness, not tension.

Xylouris, meanwhile, has transformed this long-necked, eight-string lute from a strummed accompanying instrument into a full-blown soloing one thanks to a considerable level of virtuosity and a Fender Twin. As good as he is, however, were he only a lutenist he would not quite match White’s improvisational power. Keeping the duo in balance was his singing: a resonant baritone that could border on magnificence.

With White swapping between mallets and various sticks almost bar by bar the colour shifts were continual, and when the pair hit maximum intensity the effect was not so much of Greek music rocking out as of its epic qualities being amplified.

On one piece in a 70-minute set they meandered, fishing for ideas when an ending would have been the best option, but for the rest the collaboration’s conversational looseness was a badge of honour rather than a negative. The wonder was that fans of either the Dirty Three or Greek traditional music could leave equally elated.