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CD Review: Vasilis Xenopoulos & The Xtet – Loud City

Vasilis Xenopoulos & The Xtet – Loud City
(33JAZZ224. CD Review by Tony Heiberg)

Before he went on to win a Europe-wide saxophone competition for a scholarship to Berklee,  saxophone star Vasilis Xenopoulos, now resident in the UK, and making a major contribution to the scene here, was known by his fellow Greek musicians as “Mr. Real Book” in tribute to his already vast repertoire of standard and modern tunes. And I shouldn’t be surprised if tunes from his band’s new CD make it into the next edition of the Real Book because many of Vasilis’ originals sound like instant classics. All of the musicians on Loud City are of world-class calibre as are the tunes and arrangements. Loud City will especially appeal to devotees of hard bop, funk and Blue Note recordings and there are echoes of bebop, Latin and swing music to be found here.

The album opens with a fast but catchy unison line from Vasilis and Nigel Price (guitar) on West End Groove then segues into swinging melodic solos from Vasilis and then Sam Gambarini on organ on a tune with a typically tight, well-thought-out arrangement.

EJF Theme Tune is funky with another catchy theme and contains one of the highlights of the CD: a duet featuring Vasilis and drummer Chris Nickolls. Chris is a masterful drummer with a unique tone and he establishes an extremely funky groove and effortlessly nails all the hits in the arrangement while Vasilis’s solo outlines the chord sequence so strongly that the two musicians obtain a sound that is surprisingly full.

Street Dance is a samba with a beautiful melody and harmonic structure complimented by Chris’s authentically rendered Brazilian rhythms. Nigel plays a superb solo as does Vasilis (on alto saxophone for this track) and Sam on organ.

And Now What is a gently memorable ballad soulfully played by Vasilis that contains a lovely short guitar intro from Nigel and melodic and sensitive solos from the guitarist and saxophonist before they play a brief duet on the outro.

The eponymous Loud City is funky with short double time swing sections and a catchy tune on which Vasilis overdubs two saxophone parts. Nigel makes full use of his wah-wah pedal and both play strong improvisations. The X Changes is a rhythm changes tune of a quality that would fit comfortably with bebop tunes by the likes of Bird, Rollins and Monk and features strong to-the-point solos from the entire band.

Ellis Can Dance is a funky minor blues with another memorable melody and swinging – ahem – X Changes… between Xenopoulos and Price. The tune then moves on to a tight ensemble section followed by an enjoyable organ extemporisation before returning to the theme.

For All The Lazy Sundays is the closer and begins with a 12/8 feel before moving into a ’30’s style swing section with melody lines that make witty allusions to classics from that era. Nigel plays another swinging solo, which the sharp-eared Vasilis picks up the last phrase of and runs with, in the splendid solo Xenopoulos plays to conclude a great CD.

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