Xylouris White

Black Peak

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The second offering from Cretan lutist George Xylouris and Dirty Three drummer Jim White is a mirror image of their debut, 2014's Goats. The earlier album, almost entirely comprising instrumental tunes, referenced tradition as a vehicle for improvisation. Filled with passionate vocal numbers, Black Peak fully incorporates folk tradition within it, extending the folkloric line from antiquity.

The opening title track commences with Xylouris introducing a scalar melody on his laouto (long-necked lute), then mute-strumming rhythmically, adding ballast to White's shockingly direct (for him) rock & roll snare/tom-tom beat. Strummed chords introduce the lutist's grainy baritone moaning and wailing, eventually erupting in a forceful crescendo. "Forging" delivers an intense staccato melody line stacked with edgy arpeggios and drop-beat snare vamps, mashing Cretan folk and rock together; the overflow is what fuels Xylouris' vocal. By contrast, the almost painfully slow "Erotokritos" is a dark, haunting love song possessed equally of spiritual and physical longing. White is more expressionistic here, following the plucked harmonics of Xylouris' instrument into the ether. His groaning vocal (with layered backing chorale harmonies) comes from the marrow of desire, as it expresses itself repeatedly, creating a nearly ritual music. It's a momentary respite as the pair erupts again in the dazzling, knotty intro to the instrumental "Short Rhapsody." White's fluid, rolling cymbal washes and woody rim-shots offer tension in flux while Xylouris solos. It slows a bit halfway through, but the pair's attack is so pronounced and encompassing, it's hardly noticeable. "Pretty Kondilies" is almost circular, like a Western folk song. Its major chords are an anomaly, but the almost improvisational vocal phrasing, lithe bell-like cymbals, and arpeggiated lute fills transform it into something other.

Xylouris' father, Psarandonis, a celebrated lyra player and singer in his own right, adds his instrument and voice to "The Feast." His violin-like instrument's higher pitch is contrasted with the droning laouto and White's ever so speculative rhythm-making to create an incantatory effect; it's in this space that the older man delivers the lyric in a raw, moving basso profundo. A lyra solo hovers above as George finds a more earthy harmonic and White illuminates it in spectral backdrops as an atmospheric bridge. They eventually come together before a brief ratcheting down before it just ceases, closing Black Peak out. Though more anchored in Cretan folk, this set reveals Xylouris and White -- seasoned by touring -- as more confident and strident. Their exploration and exposition of what lies hidden in tradition in the creation of new music make for utterly compelling -- and perhaps even obsessive -- listening.

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