Sofia Koutsovitis, Jim Hall & Dave Holland
January 1, 1970Just the usual column and Calendar item this week, and I'll keep the newsletter intro brief as well, as I need to crank out this week's column this morning in preparation for Thanksgiving. The column was about the talented young vocalist Sofia Koutsovitis and the talented young instrumentalists who round out her octet. The story got a little more prominent play than most of the columns do, running on the front of the music page and accompanied by two photos.
The Calendar pick was Jim Hall & Dave Holland, who opened three days of performances at the Real Deal last night. Last year they played the same place, and Joe Lovano dropped by and sat in with them for one set as a surprise guest. I'm hoping to make one of tonight's sets myself with my wife. Maybe we'll see you there.
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Eight is just enough
NEC grad Koutsovitis finds her voice with octet
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | November 18, 2005
The Sofia Koutsovitis Group, which will take the Ryles stage next week, is an octet, to be precise. Which makes it unusual. Most singers prefer being backed by fewer musicians, both to keep their singing from being obscured by multiple horns, and to avoid the hassle — and expense — of maintaining a larger contingent.
"Well, those are the smart vocalists," Koutsovitis says with a laugh. "The ones like me that don't want to make any money put together bigger bands."
She's joking, of course. "I really like the sound and the possibilities that we have as an octet," explains the 28-year-old vocalist and composer, whose work mixes Argentine, Brazilian, Peruvian, and jazz influences into a sophisticated, arty blend all her own. "It's pretty complicated to deal with so many busy musicians, but it's definitely very rewarding."
They are busy, indeed. The young musicians corralled by Koutsovitis could serve as an advertisement for the benefits of studying jazz in Boston. Six of the band members were students at New England Conservatory, the others are from Berklee. The group includes drummer Richie Barshay, who has toured with Herbie Hancock the past couple of years; tenor and soprano saxophonist Daniel Blake, who had a release party at Zeitgeist Gallery on Wednesday for his new disc "The Party Suite" and is a driving force behind the newly formed Boston Jazz Collective; and Fresh Sounds recording artist Leo Genovese, one of Boston's most in-demand young pianists when he isn't touring Europe or South America. The others — bassist Jorge Roeder, percussionist Jorge Perez Albela, trumpeter Jason Palmer, and alto saxophonist Adam Schneit — also keep active with projects outside the group.
Koutsovitis, who herself has kept busy with a variety of side projects since moving to New York six months ago, met her future bandmates while pursuing her master's degree in jazz at NEC. She'd studied classical music and Argentine folk music in her native Buenos Aires for most of her life when, at 19, she was introduced to jazz via Bobby McFerrin's interpretation of the Chick Corea tune "Spain."
"One of my teachers lent me a couple of records," Koutsovitis recalls, "and it just totally blew my mind. I really wanted to learn how to improvise, and that was very hard to do at the time, being a vocalist, because nobody was really teaching that or doing that. So I started buying books and CDs and trying to study it by myself."
She took correspondence courses from NEC professor Charlie Banacos, who helped persuade her to come to Boston for graduate school. At NEC, her professors included vocalist Dominique Eade as well as musicians Banacos, Danilo Perez, Steve Lacy, Bob Moses, and Allan Chase. The fit was a good one for Koutsovitis, who uses her rich alto voice to sing wordless, instrumental-like lines as much as she does to sing Spanish, Portuguese, and English lyrics.
"NEC gave the vocalists the opportunity to work in ensembles, and to work as if they were another instrument," says Koutsovitis. "I really enjoyed that approach, and the fact that we could improvise and sing lines as if we were horn players."
Some of the material on Koutsovitis's self-produced new CD, "Ojalá," originated as classroom exercises. One of them, an assignment to write a piece for multiple horns, spawned pieces "Silence 1" and "Silence 2." It also led her to assemble the Sofia Koutsovitis Group.
"I wanted to play that song and do other things with three horns," she explains, "and then it was really complicated to get everybody together just for one or two songs. So I decided to write more music for the three horns and for the octet in general."
One piece sprang from yet another NEC assignment, for which she set the Jorge Luis Borges poem "El Suicida" to music. Another is her piece "Gris," also on the new CD. And she's still at it. Koutsovitis reports that she'll be coming to Boston a day ahead of the Ryles performance to rehearse new music she's been writing. "So hopefully," she says, "we will have some new material."
Sofia Koutsovitis will perform with her octet at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Ryles, as part of the club’s weekly Artist Showcase series. Tickets $9. Call 617-876-9330 or visit www.rylesjazz.com.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Jim Hall & Dave Holland
The Real Deal Jazz Club & Café, Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, 41 Second St., Cambridge. 617-876-7777. 7 and 9:30 p.m. $24. Repeats Sat. ($28) and at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sun. ($24, $12 for children under 12 or in combination with $14 ticket to a 2:30 performance by the Milton Academy Jazz Band).
Jim Hall and Dave Holland's duo performances at the Real Deal last December were high on the list of best local jazz concerts of 2004. They'll be back conjuring up similar magic this weekend, with six sets spread over three days, the first pair of them tomorrow night. Hall (below) and Holland (left) have long been recognized as among the greatest musicians in jazz history on their respective instruments, guitar and bass. Since their last meeting in Cambridge they've also both begun exhibiting entrepreneurial tendencies. Holland launched his new record label, Dare2 Records, with the February release of his big band CD "Overtime." Hall, who turns 75 in on Dec. 4, made the leap to the Web-based, artist-driven label ArtistShare. His disc "Magic Meeting," a trio set recorded live at the Village Vanguard with Scott Colley on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, came out earlier this year, and a duo session with pianist Geoffrey Keezer, titled "Free Association," is now in the works. Hall and Holland have worked together only rarely, making their unusual rapport — at their show last year, they effortlessly tossed lead and accompaniment duties back and forth — all the more impressive. These gentlemen listen as well as they play.
Thurs 11-17 Patricia Barber She likes performing barefoot and with a snifter of cognac close at hand, but hear Blue Note artist Patricia Barber sing and play piano and you may not even notice those little quirks. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. $20. Repeats Fri.