Xylouris White – Goats

George Xylouris and Jim White create wondrous and perfectly balanced Greek folk sound

Theirs is a pairing both unlikely and perfect. George Xylouris, venerated Cretan lute player, born into a family of renowned folk musicians, immersed in the age-old musical traditions of his homeland, and Jim White, in-demand and questing Australian-in-New York alt-indie / avant-rock drummer, most famous for breaking bones and hearts in Warren Ellis’ Dirty Three. Where Xylouris’ studious folk roots and White’s more confrontational, exploratory style come together is in the liberating tension of improvisation, the spontaneous moment of communication when formal mode meets uncharted territory.

The album opens with perhaps its most strident and striking moment: ‘Pulling the Bricks’ begins in a shamble of rambunctious, jerky stabs, underpinned by yearning chord transitions and hanging phrases. This gives way to a fluttery, almost tentative, butterfly-brief improvisation before returning to its good-natured, heavy-footed stumbling.

Essentially, the track is Goats in a two-minute microcosm: a rare combination of elements, a meeting of spiky and honeyed, antiquity and modernity, full of warmth and life and human connections. ‘Old School Sousta’ is more traditional, a Mediterranean courtship stomp given extra muscle by White’s relentless but subtly varied pounding.

After the boisterous first two tracks, Goats largely shifts into a less physical, more contemplative mode, but it’s no less engaging. ‘The Bells’ encapsulates this duo’s distinctive chemistry, as nimble yet razor-precise lute melodies, sodden with emotion and storytelling potential, meet skittering but unobtrusive free-improvised drums. White’s subtlety comes to the fore on ‘Suburb’ as he accentuates the cracks in Xylouris’ delicate, impressionistic patterns. Yet it’s not all counterpoint and juxtaposition, and the two display remarkable telepathy on the faster, more rhythmically complex tunes, ‘Chicken Song’ and ‘Fandomas’.

Here, the usual drummer / soloist relationship is gorgeously inverted. Xylouris, strictly disciplined but endlessly expressive, generally holds everything together, while White seems perpetually on the verge of cutting loose and running wild through the Dikti mountains, though he resists the urge … for now. It all makes for a wondrous and perfectly balanced partnership.

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