Questions by Jim Betts Professor of Music at Monmouth College Illinois, regarding a project/research on my 2nd Candid album Daedalus Project-Labyrinth
(Dimitri Vassilakis answers to Jim Betts questions)
(Dimitri Vassilakis answers to Jim Betts questions)
What inspired you to select the story of the Cretan labyrinth as a concept for an album? Was there anything in particular that triggered the idea (a rereading of the story, a trip to Knossos, or some other event)?
The inspiration came from different sources. The myth has a very strong concept. Daedalus was a famous architect so the ideas of form, construction, mathematics, logic and creation where the fundamental force.
Icarus flight to freedom portrays more the individual artist in his pursue for personal and artistic freedom.
Ariadne and the Minotaur are very strong archetypal symbols and were expressed by the ritualistic and strong rhythmic element that both jazz and Balkan musics have.
Some relevant readings and influences have been James Joyce’s “Portrait Of An Artist” (Steven Daedalus character) and Ulysses.
In those books Joyce tackles language to the edge.
Another hidden influence was Franz Kafka’s “The Burrow”.
Here we dig deep into the human thought process and existence.
Labyrinth becomes an idea or a way into the mind and perception. I tried to portray that by mixing the obvious with underlying hidden elements that need a lot of attention to come out but are manifested best by unconscious perception.
Other examples of literary influences are Jack Kerouac’s instant/spontaneous prose and Samuel Becket’s unbelievable stripping of language.
Do you feel your heritage, education, and cultural background gave you more understanding of the myth and encouraged your inspiration?
It is almost like it runs in the DNA, as once born in Greece one feels those myths are part of the collective human history.
Did the subjects of the titles influence your music, or were the titles selected to fit the music you had already written?
The titles are relevant to the music, some were composed before and they triggered the myth idea, most were composed later reflecting on the names and symbols.
Did you have any problems getting a culturally diverse group of musicians to understand your vision, or were you more interested in the perspectives they brought to the performance?
The idea behind this was to create a Daedalus Project Band to construct this Labyrinth album.
It was vital to be diverse, as I had to make a strong point of my Greek/Mediterranean/Balkan heritage that can collaborate with different jazz styles and cultures.
You are right on the other point yes I was very much interested in their perspectives; their different approaches sounds and influences.
I knew all of them and had played before with all but in different settings.
I chose a New York rhythm section with a heavy swinging drummer like Ralph Peterson and a more European style bass player with smoother sound and great melodic soloing as Marc Johnson.
Dave Liebman brought the high energy Coltrane approach with an extremely developed chromatic language
Greek pianists George Kontrafouris and Emmanuel Saridakis contrasted each other; the first being very much into the modern jazz idiom; while the second being more adventurous in the areas of atonality and experimenting with odd times, rhythms and accents.
Most suitable is the work of Theodosii Spassov who is primarily a traditional player, but has infused his style with jazz elements and was perfect for this project.
Andy Sheppard a good friend and great stylist on the soprano saxophone brought a European more open sound to the project and finally Jamey Haddad is the perfect example of a rare musician who is a master in both idioms, jazz and ethnic musics.
Since this album, have you returned to Greek mythological sources for new compositions? (For example, I noticed the 2009 “Apollo and the Muses” tour on your performance list.)
On the Apollo & The Muses tour with subtitle “Steam Of Life” I composed music loosely connected with Greek influences, more like chamber music for saxophone and piano with jazz elements.
The idea is to accompany the Duncan movements; that of course are very Greek influenced from the postures of the ancient Greek statues; with something that has flow, form and rhythmic interest.
The dancers were very traditionally Duncan and although jazz is not the 1st choice for those choreographies, the collaboration proved a very fruitful one and music that came out of this could be potentially a new album.
The Greek elements here are clarity, flow, high energy at points, also very simple-like and serene at others, trying to focus on the Apollo-god and how he can be light and harmony in music.
If you were speaking to a group of teachers of Greek history and mythology (some of whom know little about music), what would be the most important things you would want them to know about yourself and your art?
First of all to realize that jazz is a universal language.
I can go anywhere in the planet and play with other jazz musicians, not speaking a word to each other and make a jazz standard heard in a new and fresh way, as each one will contribute in his solos and accompaniment with his style, groove, feel, time, ideas and sound.
There is very strong symbolism in the ancient myths and history that can also be the source of inspiration of such an expressive and “democratic” art form as jazz.
Going back to ancient times the scientific foundation for music was laid down by Pythagoras.
The relationship between the notes and their intervals is the basic vocabulary of music and the ancient Greek modes are used extensively in jazz.
The terms swing and blues are very strong in the jazz tradition and almost evident in anything a jazz musician would play even if one infuses ethnic elements.
The same can be said about Greek traditional music that has beauty and power of expression and goes back a long way bringing ancient wisdom and knowledge.
The odd times and rhythms and how they are used for dance and the modes and scales and how they produce tension and release are similar to the terms swing=rhythm and blues=scale/mode. The secret is on the “feel” and that only a master musician regardless of the idiom can produce.
I have also studied byzantine music that you can compare with spirituals, whereas a part of a more modern branch of Greek music: rebetika is compared with the early blues.
Being a Greek musician today doesn’t exclude me from the American or the west European jazz community and on the other hand Greek elements such as rhythms, scales, modes, sounds and articulations can be integrated into modern jazz without making it predictably “ethnic”.
They should appreciate jazz even if it does sound “Greek” some times as it’s an art form about each individual player’s life story.
To develop one’s personal sound is the utmost goal in jazz and makes this art form all the more honest and true.
Finally I see myself as an artist in a holistic way, trying to elevate both spirit and body with regular training, running, biking, focusing on meditation and balance.