Dimitris Kakavoulis Quartet - Curves (Album Review)

The shortest distance between two places is a straight line. However, travelling on a curve can provide a more scenic view. The music of Athenian multi-instrumentalist Dimitris Kakavoulis combines elements of afro, funk, Latin, Brazilian and jazz music to create energized pieces full of improvisational skill and arrangments that always take the scenic route. 

Kakavoulis' quartet is completed by Dimitris Kollias on the saxophone, Periklis Trivolis on the double bass, and drummer Leandros Fratnik. On the ensemble's debut album, Curves, Kakavoulis leaves ample space for his colleagues to operate independently while incorporating them into his intuitive lines. This is undoubtedly the case for the opening track "Dodedahdum", where Kakavoulis' decidedly light touch allows Kollias to lead with saxophone passages. Throughout the album, Kollias is an antagonist to the protagonist of Kakvoulis. Kollias' aggressive and investigational saxophone lines offset Kakavoulis' gentle and more traditionally beautiful playing. For example, on "Siganopapadia", Kollias blows as if to extinguish a fire, while Kakavoulis fancifully hangs out on the peripheries.


Trivolis is a sneaky player, and his bass sits unassumingly in the background, occasionally popping its head from below the surface with forte strikes when appropriate. Additionally, Fratnik has a frenetic drumming style and is seemingly unable to choose a cymbal and stick to it, preferring to dash around his set with ease; fills skillfully and enjoyable executed.  

As accomplished as these arrangements and players are, they rarely colour outside the lines. Pieces like "Conviction In Blue" are far too polite and kind on the ear to be exhilarating, even when they reach intense crescendos. Perhaps exhilaration was never the goal. Instead, Kakavoulis gravitates towards a more straightforward beauty. 

Not technically simple (impossibly fast notes and clever harmonies make this music rich) but simple in emotional range. These compositions perenially land on the unpretentious and innocuous. However, the group settled into the milquetoast quite well, and the second half of the collection is given theoretical tangents. "Mondo Azul" houses a repetitively disquieting ostinato, fun calypso rhythms, and highly integrated playing from all members. "Not What You Thought" sees Kakavoulis flex his solo muscles before "Woman Of Shades" transports the listener to a New York City jazz lounge. 

The closing track, "Vradyase", opens with a discombobulated, hard-to-follow piano before Kakavoulis segues into a simple and short phrase that feels ominous in its snake-like movement. Kakavoulis and Kollias pass the baton repeatedly on this nine-minute album highlight, which goes down more interesting avenues than the commercially acceptable and academically informed jazz comprising most of the collection.

The cover photo for Curves was taken by Fotini Romaliadou and shows someone, presumably Kakavoulis, staring up from a cave into the daylight. This image fits an album that relentlessly looks for the light and finds it.