Ithaki: Live at Scholes St.
March 22, 2023 | Slow and Steady Records
Slow & Steady Records announces the release of New York-based bassist-composer Nick Panoutsos’ sophomore album Ithaki: Live at Scholes Street, which explores improvisational freedom over traditional Greek song forms in the classic Ornette Coleman tradition of piano-less quartets. The name “Ithaki” is the title of a poem by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy about the journey of Odysseus. Panoutsos was struck by one line in particular – “hope your journey is a long one” – which Panoutsos took to heart and interpreted “that our ultimate aspiration is less important and impactful than the journey to reach it.”
Panoutsos first assembled his Ithaki quartet back in 2019 to workshop a few handwritten sketches he had recently penned. “As someone who craves order and structure in most aspects of life, Ithaki started out as an exercise in the opposite,” shares Panoutsos, whose 2022 debut solo album Monos (Slow & Steady Records) stayed very true to the song structures, rhythms and melodies of his native Greece. Ithaki, on the other hand, embraces both order and disorder. “We start with a written idea and it’d soon evolve into something completely different, morphing from dense, urgent episodes into airy rubato phrases,” recalls Panoutsos. The new ensemble was on to something, but the pandemic would put a two year pause on Ithaki.
Panoutsos got the band back together in 2022 and scheduled a live recording date at Scholes Street Studio in New York City, which resulted in this six-track release (full track listing and notes below). Panoutsos credits the stellar lineup of musicians for expanding his compositions and arrangements. On trumpet is Camerahn Alforque, who was there at the first session in 2019, and “who goes between bluesy and experimental at the drop of a dime,” says Panoutsos. He also recruited longtime collaborators Sunhyun Yoo (alto saxophone) and Kobi Abcede (drums) to round out the quartet. “Sun really took the time to assimilate the style and melodic themes of Greek traditional music,” praises Panoutsos, who points to Sun’s inspired solo on “Anta ‘man Palikari” (a traditional Greek song that gave Panoutsos “chills” the first time he heard it). “And Kobi brings his impeccable time, big ears, and a willingness to embrace new sounds, specifically adapting rhythms of Greek percussion to the drumset.” Indeed, Ithaki: Live at Scholes Street brilliantly expands on Panoutsos’ concept of bridging Greek melodies and rhythms with improvised music and jazz.