When Grammy Award winning
composer, bandleader and pianist Maria Schneider invites you to tour with
her, you seize the opportunity and that is exactly what Argentine vocalist,
musician and composer Sofia Koutsovitis did. The native of Buenos Aires
now living in New York City recently concluded a European tour with Schneider.
Concerts were performed in Portugal, Spain, Austria, France and Switzerland.
Koutsovitis who is a highly skilled vocalist had a unique performance role
with Schneider's orchestra. She sang the instrumental lines, providing
a vocal rendition for various instruments in the orchestra.
I contacted Schneider while
her band was in Madrid, Spain, and she had this to say about the young
Argentine, "Sofia sounds really beautiful with the band. She has a lovely
sound that is human and earthy all at once. She is able to blend in with
the instruments while adding something very human to it. She creates such
a broad spectrum of colors and sounds. Sofia is so creative and I know
there is much to discover down the road."
Koutsovitis left no doubt
as to how she feels about the opportunity to tour with Schneider," It has
been my dream to work with Maria and I got a chance to do this with her."
When Koutsovitis first came
to America, it was as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music
in Boston. The twenty-four year old at first struggled in an environment
that was devoid of many Latin American students. "(In Boston) everything
was difficult at first because of the language. It was difficult to know
what was going on in the classroom. There wasn't anyone around who could
speak Spanish," she said.
The most startling revelation
that Koutsovitis made concerning her adjustment to Boston was, "Oh my God
I have never seen so many rats in my life!"
Despite the linguistic challenges
and the rats (not at the conservatory), Koutsovitis eventually emerged
from the New England Conservatory of Music recognized as a skilled and
The highly respected vocalist,
composer and vocal coach Dominique Eade observed, "Sofia Koutsovitis is
a remarkable singer. Her rich, warm alto is equally at home with quick
Latin rhythms and sensuous ballads. Her sound appeals right to your heart
but her witty, intelligent interpretations and compositions will win your
her excellence and versatility as a singer with her 2005 project Ojalá.
The album also highlights her skills as a composer.
The first two tracks from
Ojalá are lively and more frenetic whereas "Gris," the third
song from the CD, is at times very relaxed and at others more experimental.
In fact, "Gris" at some junctures is reminiscent of the music of Koutsovitis'
friend, fellow musician Monika Heidemann.
Koutsovitis has created
a beautiful arrangement for Paulinho Da Viola's "Dança Da Solidão."
It is a more relaxed tune whose melody takes advantage of the piano, saxophone
and percussion instruments. Jorge Roeder establishes a strong bassline,
which Koutsovitis confesses, has always been present in her music.
Talking about her CD Ojalá
Koutsovitis said, "One of the things that we are incorporating is Argentine
rhythms. Some of the Argentine music is from the folkloric traditions (such
as) chacarera and zamba (not to be confused with samba). Some of the music
is from northern Argentina where they have African influences. We used
black Peruvian traditions (such as) lando for the song, 'You Don't Know
What Love Is.'" Other influences that can be found in Koutsovitis' music
include festejo (Peruvian) and the rhythms of both Brazil and Colombia.
In terms of the musicians
who appear on this CD, I tip my hat in particular to the percussionists,
Richie Barshay (drums, cajón), Jorge Pérez Albela (congas,
cajón, djembe), Jamey Haddad (surdo) and Leo Genovese (bombo).
Koutsovitis finds it interesting
that so often the music of South America is grouped under the banner of
Latin music. She said, "That (statement) assumes a unity in the styles
from South America but they all come from different (origins)."
As one might expect when
your music is infused with so many cultural influences Koutsovitis' songs
also utilize an eclectic mix of instruments. Two of the unique instruments
are a quijada de burro otherwise known as a donkey jaw (yes you read that
correctly!) and a cajón (ka-hone). Before we proceed, we should
explain that the donkey's have died naturally and are not being culled
for the sake of making new instruments. Both the cajón and the donkey
jaw have their origins in Peru during colonial times. African slaves were
prohibited from owning and playing traditional instruments. The ancestor
of the present day cajón was nothing more than a wooden box, which
was used to carry everyday items such as fruits and vegetables. In fact,
the word cajón in Spanish means crate or box. The cajón began
to appear in modern day flamenco music and in more recent years it has
been heard in a variety of genres.
Koutsovitis explained how
the donkey jaw is played, "The teeth of the donkey are loose and they move
when you hit it. You hit the jaw with your hand. You can also hit it with
a stick," she says before relating a humorous story, "In Lisbon (Portugal)
I left it (donkey jaw) on the table in the hotel room. I came back to get
it while two cleaning ladies were in the room. They looked at me weirdly."
Gee Sofia I wonder why that would be? She later convinced the maids
that it was in fact an instrument and demonstrated how the donkey jaw is
Other less familiar instruments
that can be heard on Ojalá include the surdo, guiro, melodica
The chanteuse who is fluent
in Spanish, English and Portuguese has set a torrid pace for herself during
the first part of 2007. She will appear on Maria Schneider's next project
scheduled to begin recording in January. Koutsovitis will also be recording
a new solo album. She already has already charted several original compositions.
Geoffrey Keezer has asked her to appear on his next project. During the
first part of the year, there will also be recordings with Folklore Urbano
for their third CD Corazon as well as Alcatraz's Afro-Peruvian album.
In Cambridge Massachusetts,
you will able to catch Sofia Koutsovitis at the Regattabar Jazz Club in
the Charles Hotel on January 27th as she takes part in a tribute concert
to Antonio Carlos Jobim. She will be back in Boston on February 24 th singing
at the Ryles Jazz Club as well as fulfilling a television commitment.
Jazz fans in New York City can slip over to Cornelia Street Café
where Koustovitis will be appearing on February 8th.
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.