Nána Simopoulos: Skins
2016: Na Records
Nána Simopoulos on Vocals, Guitar, Bouzouki
Ustad Sultan Khan on Sarangi
Mary Ann McSweeney on Bass
Manos Loutas on Bass
Royal Hartigan on Drums
Michalis Orphanidis on Drums
Solis Barki on Percussion
Jamie Haddad on Percussion
Greg Beyer on Steel Drums, Percussion, Berimbau
Dave Liebman on Saxophone, Wood Flute
Charlie Tokarz on Alto Flute, Saxophone
Dimitri Vassilakis on Saxophone
Caryn Heilman, Davi, Solis Barki, Markos Simopoulos:
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 14, 2016
This CD is truly remarkable, for its world fusion of musical tones, stylings, and combined Eastern and Western instruments and arrangements. Nána Simopoulos, who performs on vocals, bouzouki (stringed instrument, Greece), and guitar, has assembled top class artists, listed above, on saxes, flute, wood flute, drums, exotic percussion, and bass, plus sarangi (flat stringed instrument, India) (Ustad Sultan) and berimbau (single string instrument, Brazil) (Greg Beyer). The aural effect is striking and spellbinding. You will feel transported to another land. I was not surprised that Ms. Simopoulos has composed scores for new choreographies for renowned modern dance and ballet companies. She has also conducted concerts with musicians from Turkey, Tibet, Africa, and around the globe. The title of this album refers to a dance piece Ms. Simopoulos collaborated on, with projections of virtual costumes. Mixed into the exotic tonalities of Greece, India, and Brazil, are generous brass solos and harmonies by Dave Liebman on sax, Charlie Tokarz on flute and sax, and Dimitri Vassilakis on sax. Ms. Simopoulos’ lyrics derive from Japanese, Sufi, Rumi, and Hafiz poetry. This music must be heard to fully absorb its affecting uniqueness.
All compositions and arrangements by Nána Simopoulos.
#3 – Inside – With an expended, enchanting sax solo by Dave Liebman, this track presents Ms. Simopoulos on guitar and soft vocals, vocal backup by Caryn Heilman and Davi. Also featured is Manos Loutas on bass, Solis Barki on percussion, and Royal Hartigan on smooth, understated drums. There’s an easy sway to the rhythm, breezy, wistful, and Mr. Liebman ends the track on a soulful wood flute.
#4 – Owl Woman – This track offers the listener a rare experience in the chanting tones of the Indian sarangi, performed by the late Ustad Sultan Khan. Even more mesmerizing is the fusion of the sarangi and Charlie Tokarz’ sax, one tone overlapping the other. Ms. Simopoulos focuses on vocals here, with poetic lyricism. Mary Ann McSweeney adds a strong, earthy bass, while Greg Beyer’s steel drums Mr. Hartigan’s drums, and Jamie Haddad’s scintillating percussion broaden the ambient resonance.
#7 – Merely to Know – Mr. Liebman and Ms. Simopoulos join sax and guitar with compelling effect, as this piece travels over nine minutes with echoing momentum. The vocals are based on a 12th century Japanese poem by Kojiju. Ms. McSweeney on bass, Ms. Barki on percussion, Mr. Hartigan on drums, and Ms. Heilman and Davi on backup vocals all blend evocative tonality and syncopation that twists and winds through the lush fusion of vocals, guitar, and sax.
#8 – And Ever – This final track is magical and magnetic, with Ms. Simopoulos turning to her guitar and bouzouki, no vocals, all instrumental ensemble. Joining her are Mr. Khan on sarangi, fused with her bouzouki and Mr. Beyer’s berimbau, as well as Mr. Tokarz on sax, Ms. McSweeney on bass, and Mr. Hartigan on drums. The sax plays out the final moments in a whispering refrain. This track and others reward multiple listening experiences with fascinating, tonal dynamics.