Matthew Warnock, ReviewYou
Artist: Nikos Koulouris, Album: …Dare to Dream, Review by Matthew Warnock
Artist: Nikos Koulouris
Album: …Dare to Dream
Review by Matthew Warnock
Instrumental music usually falls into one of several categories including Jazz, New-Age, Smooth Jazz and Adult Contemporary. But, there are some artists that are not content to sit in any one of the categories with their musical output. Instead, they purposefully blur the lines between genres with their instrumental compositions and arrangements. Greek born saxophonist and composer Nikos Koulouris is just such an artist, one that likes to float between genres, as evidenced by his album …Dare to Dream. This collection of four instrumental works is a well-written EP that encompasses several instrumental genres of music, without ever firmly resting in one for an extended period of time.
The album kicks off with an atmospheric track titled “Rise of the Dreamer.” Bringing in elements of World Music, acoustic guitar, recorder and rhythm section, this song is a great example of the open-mindedness that Koulouris possesses in his writing. There is a distinct melody section, followed by improvised solos, as one would expect from a jazz tune, yet besides the formatting, this song is far removed from jazz both rhythmically and harmonically. By taking inspiration from the jazz tradition in regards to form, and extending expectations with funky, slapped-bass, distorted guitar soloing and hard-driving grooves from the drums, Koulouris has created a highly-personalized track that can be called instrumental music, yet resists falling into one distinct category or genre.
The key to finding success with an EP is often how an artist programs their repertoire, and not necessarily the songs themselves. Sometimes having four or five great songs is not enough when they all sound the same. Koulouris avoids this by choosing a collection of tracks that are distinct, yet linked by their high level of musicianship and creative interpretations. “Alone” is a track that moves in a new direction, leading the listener down a darker road, creating a more moody atmosphere than the up-tempo opening track. Complete with screaming guitar melodies, an engaging harmonic progression and laid-back tempo, this track compliments the first by moving in a new musical direction, one that keeps the listener guessing as to what is coming next.
This trend continues with the Latin inspired “Dream-Walking.” Here, Koulouris brings a Latin rhythm and melodic content to his writing. Bringing back an up-tempo, the focus in on the tight groove elicited by the rhythm section and the melody lines that float over this beat. By adding horn background figures to the mix, the saxophonist is also bringing in a new melodic texture to the track, adding a further level of interest and audience engagement.
The short EP finishes with the dance-beat track “Golden Sand.” Again, we find Koulouris moving in a new rhythmic and textural direction, his fourth in as many tunes. Bringing in a pop-dance beat may seem a bit out of place, until one hears the track and its infectious groove and catchy melodic line. Pop tracks can sometimes stick out in an instrumental context, but when written well and programmed right, as is the case here, they can really add to the overall success of the release. By featuring four different tracks with four different grooves and influences, Koulouris not only provides a window into his artistic tastes, but gives listeners of a wide background something to enjoy on this record.
Overall, …Dare to Dream is an interesting collection of four instrumental track that range from Latin, to dance and funk. Instrumental music is not for everyone, but fans of the genre will find something to enjoy on this record.
Reviewed by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Heath Andrews, ReviewYou
Artist: Nikos Koulouris, Album: …Dare To Dream
Artist: Nikos Koulouris
Album: …Dare To Dream
On his debut album, saxophonist Nikos Koulouris attempts to create a new genre of music through his talents as a musician and writer. 2011’s …Dare To Dream features four tracks, all of which take a variety of different sounds and styles, and cast them together in an effort to create something entirely unique. To a large extent Koulouris, and the excellent musicians who work with him, (affectionately dubbed, The Dream-Walkers) do create a very distinctive and enjoyable EP, but they fall short of creating a new genre of music.
Koulouris states that he is very fond of the kind of pop saxophone music which is primarily heard in smooth jazz, but that his music would not fall into that category. He’s one-hundred percent correct in that assessment. While the saxophone playing draws heavily from smooth jazz, the backing musicianship is far removed from that style, what with its rock guitars, world beat recorders, and funk bass lines. Sometimes these influences share the same space cohesively, other times it sounds a bit too disjointed for the merging to be effective.
The opening song, “Rise Of The Dreamer” begins gently enough with its guitars and keyboards, forming a good foundation for the saxophone to enter in. Not long afterwards, the drums deliver a commanding rhythm and electric guitars roar in the back. Underneath all this, a quickly played bass adds a great funky texture to the piece before it ends up going into a very New Age/World Beat inspired section. The transition, though relatively smooth, leads into something that is too far removed from what came before it to feel natural. That being said, the song is still very enjoyable, but it doesn’t accomplish what Koulouris intended, it’s only as much of a new genre as say, a “mash-up” would be.
“Alone” is a more cohesive piece, though it does take a while to build up to where it’s trying to get to. A repeated keyboard sequence slowly grows and builds amongst a swirling mix of other keys until the saxophone takes center stage. From there, the song continues to slowly build up, bringing in guitars and entering into the same sonic territory that the middle section of the song prior did. This time, it works. The transition is seamless and none of the instrumentation feels out of place. The last minute and a half of “Alone” is riveting; the sax fades into the back of the mix and the guitar comes full forward, roaring away over the groove that the song took so long to establish. It’s a highly rewarding payoff to a masterfully arranged song.
Following this is the more jazz-fusion type piece, “Dream Walking.” This is another case where the sound is a bit of a “mash-up.” The rhythm section and sax playing sounds like it was taken directly from a fusion ensemble but the piano track is rooted in a more traditional jazz trio or quartet. Nothing sounds quite out of place, Koulouris and the group makes it work well as the song just positively rips along. This is a very high energy piece, highlighted by stellar percussion, a strong saxophone lead, and a catchy brass backing section that pops up to fill out the sound.
The fourth and final piece, “Golden Sand” begins as an electronica number, with strong emphasis on ethereal keyboards and a simple percussion track. More and more keyboards, both with an electronic and organic sound, fill out the arrangement before Koulouris comes in with the sax. From there, the song actually maintains its tone, making it the most straightforward track on the EP. This actually gives Koulouris a chance to shine since he’s really the predominant force on the song. The keyboards create a very effective atmosphere, but they don’t drive the song at all, they only serve to provide texture for the magnificent performance that Koulouris gives.
For the purpose of creating a uniquely entertaining collection of songs, Nikos Koulouris has certainly delivered. …Dare To Dream is a short but endearing collection of instrumentals, guaranteed the grab the attention of anyone who’s lucky enough to listen to it. Between him and The Dream Walkers, there are enough standout performances to keep this disc in heavy rotation. In terms of creating a new genre though, Koulouris isn’t quite there. “Alone” comes very close to creating a new kind of sound but even then, it’s still a collection of influences put together. This is very inventive music though and even if he isn’t completely successful in starting a new genre, what Koulouris is finding in the meantime, is a reason for people to listen to music again.
Review by: Heath Andrews
Rating: 4.5 Stars (out of 5)