Warm and Soul-Satisfying: “Emotional Algebra” by Apostolo Kalt Orchestra

The new CD “Emotional Algebra” by bass guitarist Apostolo Kaltsas has been inspired by summers in Greece and the complexity of our emotional state, balancing the left and right hemispheres and the cross-play between the two. The Apostolo Kalt Orchestra works magic here, each player adding something different but artistically necessary.

The track “Absence” is sparse with the echo of abandonment; the shimmer of brushes and a slow, steady beat help nudge it forward. Kaltsas’s bass guitar provides the depth while the horn adds a breath of hope in a brassy mid-register. Ultimately, the song churns like the crash of ocean waves. “Jamala” is expansive and wholesome, the short solos so perfectly delivered. In “Caravan of Lost Souls” which has flavorful, tight harmonies with a light swing touch, Kaltsas lays down a thick carpet of sound until the piano comes in and doodles artfully through and around a melody. A mournful start to “Days of Summer Past” continually adds texture and layers to flip the emotion into what is possible and, even, what is probable. Emotions that are well-contained often spill over into what amounts to a life that is not always in our control, yet has the potential to be observably beautiful.

Personnel includes:

Apostolo Kalt Orchestra: Yannis Papadopoulos,  piano/keys; Dimitris Papadopoulos, trumpet/flugelhorn; Yannis Papanastasiou, alto & soprano sax; Panos Tziniolis, drums; Apostolo Kalt (aka Apostolos Kaltsas) fretted and fretless electric bass, keys, udu, shaker, triangle.
String quartet: Kostas Karakatsanis, violin; Marios Ivan Papoulias, violin; Stella Tempreli, cello; Michalis Katachanas, viola; Aggeliki Toubanaki, voice; Nadi Raj, voice.

What are some of the highlights of your career as a bass player?  Include festivals, special events and collabs you enjoyed the most.

Εvery time that someone from the audience confesses me how deeply he/she was moved by my playing or by my melodies! This is a highlight for me! Especially when he/she ‘s not a trained musician or an avid music lover. To me that’s a real honor for an artist: to be able to offer a mirror through his music where average listeners can identify their own truth.

In terms of historic venues, I ‘m glad I once played at the New York Town Hall with a popular Greek ensemble for the Greek-American community. I was thrilled to perform on the same stage where such legends had stepped before. I also enjoyed my collaboration with great singer Maria Farantouri, an amazing personality and a true symbol for my country and the world peace movement in the ’70s.

What inspired “Algebra”? What do you hope to bring to listeners?

Emotional Algebra is inspired by emotional twists that everyday life in the city brings us. It’s inspired by my friends and bandmates, my relationships, my travels, any experience that awakes my feelings and defines my life. “Emotional Algebra” is also inspired by the unique, endless Greek summer. For the northern and central Europeans summer is all about tourism. For the southern people like me, summer is always an esoteric, parallel life, an eternal return to the innocence of our childhood, an induction to the glory of the mild Mediterranean sun and the archetypal Aegean Sea.

I hope the tracks of this album will liberate listener’s emotions.

Are the tracks related by theme or idea?

I tried to manage my compositions as if they were algebraic equations: Each track tries to capture an emotion and at the same time, through a psychological adventure provided by time and harmony variations, it leads to its redemption. Similarly, an equation delivers a problem and simultaneously, through a sequence of actions, it drives to its solution.

Why did you choose the Artway-Technotropon label?

It’s a label that embraces contemporary Greek artists who like to blend traditional elements with world jazz forms, and that’s a political statement: Human civilization progresses only when different cultures feel free to borrow from each other. This is the positive aspect of globalization.

How is composing/arranging different for full orchestra than a traditional jazz band?

As the string quartet was overdubbed later on, while recording real-time with the band in the studio I had to imagine the whole arrangement so I could conduct in a way that provided the right spaces for the string section to fill in. And since a jazz band is permitted to play in a very free mode, the challenge was to achieve that delicate discipline.

Talk about some of the unusual instrumentation in this music. 

I’d say the most unusual is in the track “Samaraga Suite” where a jazz piano, a voice from India, traditional scales from the Greek region of Epirus and an Afro-funk combo all  get along. I wanted to prove that diverse sounds from various places in the world can actually interact harmonically. 

How is this music personal to you? 

Music creation is always personal and reflects our sensitivity, our individual colors, our ideas and concerns. It has that power of connecting people and letting them communicate without even meeting. Jazz in particular is a truly democratic process: A bunch of soloists who are all equal improvise in a certain context of the structures in place. Through my music people can recognize my aesthetic, my character, my spirituality and my political beliefs.

In what areas do you think you have grown the most, composer or instrumentalist?

I never saw bass as the goal, the destination. I’ve always considered it as a tool, a vehicle to express my vision. So my principle aim each time is to compose better music, to progress as a melody maker.

I never overestimate technique. Virtuosity is indeed impressive but it always gets boring after a while. And I don’t like it when in original tracks the main theme works only as an excuse to improvise. I appreciate themes that already tell a story and sing their own lyrics, according to listener’s imagination. That’s why I am a great fan of Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Stevie Wonder for example, whose compositions are so expressive and their melodies are so well crafted that they always intrigue jazz musicians to dig in them. They can be accomplished even without the lyrics.

How does this CD compare with your earlier work?

My earlier works are not far from my principles presented above. In songwriting you have to take care; ideally, the music carries the emotional cargo of the lyrics…In Greece there has been a huge school of composing represented by the legendary Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hatzidakis, who have set extremely high standards even when they dealt with poetry. They put music on the verses of major Nobel laureate Greek poets and managed to make both intellectuals and non-educated people want to sing them. I tried to follow this tradition by composing melodies that are true to the core of the lyrics’ message without being too elitist or inscrutable.

Your readers can have a taste of them in this link: https://apostoloskaltsas.bandcamp.com/album/mythotopia

Even in the instrumental “Emotional Algebra” the philosophy has been the same; however the recording process was totally different. This time all tunes were recorded in real-time in just two studio sessions, with very few overdubs and corrections.

What is the first thing you will do in performing when the venues open back up? How have you dealt with the current lack of live performing?

I can’ t wait to arrange an official live presentation of “Emotional Algebra” in some special venue in Athens and contact again all my friends and fans! I really miss live performing, practicing alone is not enough.

In every language we say we ‘play’ music, where the verb defines that music has to be a source of fun, joy and cheer! But only if you can share a game with others you can really enjoy it.

Music for me is a matter of collectivity. The saddest thing though is that the COVID crisis came as another huge crisis that was added on the shoulders of artists and musicians globally, after the actual collapse of record companies, the lack of sales, the heading of wide audiences towards sub-culture genres, and the obsolescence of music which resulted from digital downloading.

Other comments?

This pandemic could be an SOS signal for the world civilization to slow down its rhythms. Excessive speed always leads to wear and crash. The ‘progress’ we make hardly pushes our nature’s limits. It’s time to doubt materialism and focus on spirituality, ecology, everything that really feeds our mind and soul and gives quality to our time. Actually this is what we need most: Free time to dedicate to ourselves and our loved ones, something that money can never buy.

It is the condition of our hearts that matter most, in purity of faith and humility. Thank you for the interview!

For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/apostolokaltorchestra and https://open.spotify.com/album/0uvcSZeKBbKhZ3M3rVc0Ud?si=pUYdznEdRey0h3HhXB4Pkw.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Apostolo Kaltsas.

(c) 2020 Debbie Burke

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