Xylouris White: Crete/Australia Duo of Master Musicians, The Dissection Room, Summerhall, Edinburgh


Image by James Duffy. Concert Review by F Mactaggart.

28 August 2017

Xylouris White: Crete/Australia Duo of Master Musicians

As often happens at uber hip Summerhall, the gig starts somewhat later than billed, no doubt contributing to some first night nerves for Jamie Sutherland. Known locally as singer/ guitarist in indie folk band Broken Records and for his love of 1970s open-tuned guitars, tonight Sutherland presents for the first time mainly solo, with some of his latest self-penned numbers, with occasional unelaborated backing from Ian on keyboard, Robyn on violin and Anna on bass. A brave outing, Sutherland should also be congratulated for his informed choices, in his capacity as Music Programmer for Summerhall.

The main draw for tonight however is Xylouris White: a duo of master musicians from widely differing musical traditions. Giorgos Xylouris, a laouto (lute) player, born into a family of musical ‘royalty’ on the island of Crete and formerly of ‘The Xylouris Ensemble’ and Jim White, Australian alt – rock drummer, formerly of the instrumental rock band ‘Dirty Three’.

The laouto is an eight-stringed instrument with movable frets and tuning similar to that of a mandolin. Whilst in Cretan traditional music the laouto generally has a supportive role to the three-stringed, lyra, which is bowed –  interestingly Giorgos’ father Antonis’ instrument – tonight the laouto is very much in the foreground. Playing with mesmerizing dexterity and intensity, often though not exclusively with a long, curved plectrum, as each song unfolds the pace and volume gradually increase until both volume and ferocity are almost punishing.

Meanwhile White, when not glaring out at the audience in true rocker fashion, watches his bandmate with great care, and with utmost sympathy supports and augments both the technical and feeling qualities of Xylouris’ playing. Though White’s great ease behind the kit and flights into improvisation speak of a jazz quality, White’s frequent combative use of snare feels almost militaristic, and his use of snare and toms especially floor tom seems primarily rock in style, and towards the end of the slowly building pieces, punk- like.

Indeed while most pieces start out low and slow, meditatively, there is a steady building in speed and volume often to a boundary – breaching wall of sound. The sense of intensity of feeling is palpable, moving from a position of restraint to open expression of power and perhaps anger. The ‘masculine’, almost menacing quality of the Xylouris White sound is remarkable, notwithstanding the concurrent fine detail and breath-takingly beautiful delicacy.

Tonight’s ample program is drawn partly from the pair’s 2014 mainly instrumental debut Goats, but mostly from Black Peak released in late 2016 by Bella Union, both titles referencing Xylouris’ home island. The recent release adds vocals from Xylouris, and tonight his strong baritone delivers growls and intoning whispers to add to the sense of menace, most particularly in “Erotokritos” (Opening).

In a climate of gradually increasing numbers of bands exploring cross-fertilization between differing musical cultures, this must be one of the most intriguing and sympathetic. Xylouris White are touring widely, including a five day residency from November 18 this year, at The Kitchen in New York.

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