The Safety Net: Alekos Vretos – “Mergin'” (2009)


It’s a rare bird that picks up the oud and decides, hey, I’m gonna lead a jazz ensemble.  Well, your rare bird of the day is Alekos Vretos.  Mixing Arabic, Latin, and Greek musics into a jazz framework, and with his oud in the lead, he somehow has created an album that absolutely swings.  Mergin’ was released back in 2009 and doesn’t appear to have stayed in the spotlight very long (if at all)… exactly the kind of album I created the Safety Net to catch.

Your album personnel:  Alekos Vretos (oud), Konstantina Kyriazi (violin), Bassam Saba Nay (flute), Takis Paterelis (soprano sax), Dimitris Sevdalis (piano), Giorgos Roulos (double bass), April Centrone (Arabic percussion: riqq, bendir, shakers), Luis Enrique Bu Pasqual Kikitcha (Latin percussion: congas, bongos, shakers), and Seraphim Mpelos (drums).

The album begins with “Foud”, a tune that shoots from the starting gate with bursts of sounds that rise and fall in quick even steps, a taste of flamenco. And then the tune begins to soar. The violin is the most obvious evidence of the flight pattern, with oud close behind, but dear god, that rhythm section is really the inspiration for the feeling of being airborne. The buoyant percussion slowly rising rising rising, evening off, a slight dip, then rising up all over again.

This is not an unusual effect while listening to Mergin’.

The title track begins less frantically, but damn does it swing and fly like the first.

Oud strolls in nice and easy, short bursts of bass propelling it forward.  Then the flute melts a path straight to the heart of the melody, sax and violin just a whisper, and there’s just no way not to feel some happiness now.  Everything stops in place for an oud solo, then it begins again, but now the entire ensemble works as one, sharing the burden of flight, propelling the tune forward at greater speed.  It’s marked first by soprano sax, but Vretos brings in his crazily tuneful oud soon after, and it’s the flapping of wings.

Okay, I’ll stop with the bird in flight metaphors.  But, really, those kinds of descriptors are inevitable when an album inspires this much euphoria.  Besides, some album tunes prefer to speed along with their feet.

“Spain” is a high tempo number.  It begins innocently enough with a gentle soprano sax solo, but then violin and percussion hit the scene and set a furious pace that doesn’t let up until the final note.  Interplay between oud and flute is priceless on this tune, and their juxtaposition with violin continues the swingin’ feel.

The album ends with “Photi-graph,” a tune that wears its disparate ethnic influences on its sleeve, yet presents a melody that’s mysteriously pop-ish.  It left me wondering if it was a clever interpretation of a Top 40 song.  But, no, the compositions are all his own, so basically Vretos created a world-jazz fusion song that is as incredibly catchy as any Billboard pop music tune; not an easy feat to accomplish.  Surreal.

Released on the Jadeo Music label, which Vretos created and which does more than simply represent him and his music.  Musicians and influences from everywhere, but it appears that this would be considered jazz from the Athens, Greece scene.

A free album track is available at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist.

Available at Amazon: MP3