Sofia Rei Koutsovitis
A Latin Jazz artist with a strong compositional sensibility looks at the big picture of their work and shapes a powerful setting that appropriately conveys their message. They strive for a clear emotional message and refined musicality, but they also understand the power and impact of tone, timbre, and texture in their pieces. They call upon sounds from South American and Caribbean cultures to reference tradition and history. Percussion speaks volumes about these cultures, and the choice of certain percussion instruments automatically leans the piece in a certain direction. At the same time, common phrases, the use of traditional guitar sounds, and specific instrumentations can all mix together into a powerful blend. The artist also enhances their work with modern timbres, such as recording techniques, overdubbing, guitar effects, and etherial sounds. Jazz harmony and chromatic melody variations color the work’s musical content and references North American culture. The artist faces a bit of a balancing act as they decide which sonic elements should come into the forefront of their work. It’s a vital decision for the artist that potentially defines the character of their work. Once an artist finds the right balance and mixes it with potent musicality as well as strong emotional ideas, they can send a powerful message. Vocalist Sofia Rei Koutsovitis captures that magical mixture of ideal setting and powerful musical content on Sube Azul, delivering a strong musical statement.
Bold And Engaging Settings
Koutsovitis employs bold and engaging sonic settings on several tunes, putting a unique spin on her compositions. The deep steady pulse of Koutsovitis’ caja vidalera establishes a reverent tone on “Coplera” which comes to life as the vocalist’s focused sound enters. Percussionist Samuel Torres contributes a wonderfully wandering kalimba behind Koutsovitis’ vocal, as a thick delay effect creates the illusion of a large chorus. Jorge Roeder’s overdubbed basses shake the thin texture with a powerful foundation that adds strength and depth, filling out a stunningly gorgeous setting. Koutsovitis thoughtfully moves through a rubato introduction to “Sube Azul” until Juancho Herrera joins her on cuatro venezolano in a rhythmic melody that cleverly intertwines with Dana Leong’s cello. As the percussionists supply a driving rhythmic foundation, Herrera adds a plucked line with a slight wah wah and Roeder jumps into a funky line, pushing Koutsovitis’ vocal into a dramatic climax. A spinning mixture of electronic sounds fly over Roeder’s bass line as Koutsovitis falls into a gated vocal that explodes into a full wave of passionate lyrics. An understated guitar vamp and a short reverb drenched cello solo leads into Koutsovitis’ whispered vocal on “Segundo Final.” The vocalist maintains a quiet intensity over her ensemble until Roeder pushes the band forward with a rhythmic bass line. A sea of electronic sounds swim through the background as Herrera create a lyrical statement that washes into a sensitive scat solo from Koutsovitis. A moody duet from Herrera and Leong steadily creeps forward on “Jardines De Asfalto” until a cajón pulse leads the group into a dramatic vocal from Koutsovitis. The vocalist rides this somber mood to a sudden end which awakens into a lively cello line and a decidedly major melody. The rhythm section implies a subtle swing which Koutsovitis smartly utilizes in her phrasing, making way from improvisational flurries from Leo Genovese on melodium. Koutsovitis places her work in a variety of interesting settings on these tracks, always maintaining the core strength of her musicianship
More Traditional Acoustic Settings
Koutsovitis leans towards more traditional acoustic settings on other tracks, exposing the inner beauty of her songs. Herrera and Roeder create an understated and creeping groove beneath Koutsovitis’ vocal on “Instante De Vos,” giving her the opportunity to flex her impressive ability to phrase expressively. Koutsovitis guides her band into a musical highpoint with a commanding vocal that simultaneously conveys emotional content and focused meaning. As the band maintains the driving momentum, harpist Celso Duarte and Leong trade improvisational ideas, pushing the band into a heated inertia. Pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Herrea develop an upbeat groove on “El Lío,” until Koutsovitis eases into a twisting rhythmic melody. After a brief interlude, Koutsovitis kicks the melody into high gear with an attention grabbing performance that drives the dynamic level upward. The group creates a beautiful contrast with a return to the original groove, until Koutsovitis falls into a scatted ostinato while Torres solos through the gaps. The captivating sound of Koutsovitis’ elegant vocal against a beautifully intertwined tapestry of harp, acoustic guitar and cello opens “Las Cascaras” with a focused and quiet statement. A steady bombo pulse, cajón, and drum kit thicken the texture while Koutsovitis crafts a steadily growing presence to her vocal. An interlocking combination of harp and cuatro pulses around the groove as Herrera constructs a smart solo that moves through the harmony with a melodic grace. The thick sound of tambor alegre, tambora, and llamador underneath Koutsovitis’ lively vocal introduce “Entre Paredes,” joined soon by guitar, tres, and bass. Koutsovitis winds the melody into a gloriously catchy theme as clarinetist Anat Cohen wraps bluesy ideas in between the vocal phrases. A quick improvisational statement from Cohen leads into an impassioned vocal from Koutsovitis which climaxes in a long and inspired scat solo. These tracks really reveal the pure musical beauty of Koutsovitis’ vocal skills which radiate with conviction.
Drawing Upon Diverse Composers
Koutsovitis places her distinct touch upon a number of arrangements, drawing upon diverse composers. Herrera creates a soundscape of mysterious altered guitar sounds beneath Koutsovitis’ hushed vocal on Chabuca Granda’s “Cardo O Ceniza,” only to be broken by a strong bass line from Roeder. As the band picks up its momentum, Koutsovitis skillfully builds a captivating presence with her lyrics, drawing upon the flexible strength of her vocal. The band falls into a moving foundation as acoustic guitarist Eric Kurimski takes a long solo that simultaneously plays off the group’s rhythmic pulse while creating rich melodic phrases. Roeder’s catchy bass line sends the group charging into a festejo rhythm on Wilfredo Franco Laguna’s “El Mayoral,” which gets a charge from Koutsovitis’ energetic vocal. The group alters texture several times behind Koutsovitis, maintaining a clearly evident folk foundation which explodes into a driving chorus. Leong attacks the percussive groove with an angular trombone solo, leading into an improvised conversation between Koutsovitis’ scat and Torres’ rhythmic ideas. Roeder’s improvised bass melodies behind Koutsovitis’ expressive melody create a reflective mood on Arturo Shutt y Saco’s “Chongoyapana.” The musicians improvise freely behind Koutsovitis until Leong and saxophonist Dan Blake leap into a festive theme. The group follows with an upbeat and enthusiastic musical idea, leading into a long improvisational exchange between Blake and Leong. These pieces allow Koutsovitis to solidify her musical concept by applying her defined concepts to works from various composers.
An Intelligently Conceived Statement
Koutsovitis pulls together elements of culture, jazz, and texture into a intelligently conceived statement on Sube Azul. Her compositions display a connection to South American culture, jazz harmony, and an almost classical attention to form. She places these pieces into brilliant arrangements that draw upon traditional instruments, modern electronics, and band interaction. She finds an insightful balance between the music’s rhythmic momentum and an elegant instrumentation that includes harp, guitar, bass, and cello. While Koutsovitis’ sharp ear for composition and context create the foundation for the recording, her commanding vocal presence supply the album’s core strength. She moves beyond simply interpreting a lyric, she completely embodies it, sending her message with a powerful set of articulations and dynamic control. While a stunning set of sounds spin around her, Koutsovitis drives the music, sharing a captivating emotional connection to the work. Her band supports her work consistently, focusing their performance on the execution of her concept. Roeder emerges as a particularly strong contributor throughout the recording, providing a sensitive and rhythmic momentum. Leong also serves as a major piece of the sound, adding an edgy refinement through his cello work and an improvisational edge on the trombone. All these pieces form the basis of Koutsovitis’ defined concept, and they’re clearly evident throughout Sube Azul, framing Koutsovitis as a mature Latin Jazz artist with a smart concept.
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