Review: Nikos Koulouris “…Dare To Dream”

Nikos Koulouris “…Dare To Dream”

06 Jan, 2012 Matt Warnock

Instrumental music usually falls into one of several categories including Jazz, New-Age, Smooth Jazz and Adult Contemporary.  But, there are some artists that are not content to sit in any one of the categories with their musical output.  Instead, they purposefully blur the lines between genres with their instrumental compositions and arrangements.  Greek born saxophonist and composer Nikos Koulouris is just such an artist, one that likes to float between genres, as evidenced by his album …Dare to Dream.  This collection of four instrumental works is a well-written EP that encompasses several instrumental genres of music, without ever firmly resting in one for an extended period of time.

The album kicks off with an atmospheric track titled “Rise of the Dreamer.”  Bringing in elements of World Music, acoustic guitar, recorder and rhythm section, this song is a great example of the open-mindedness that Koulouris possesses in his writing.  There is a distinct melody section, followed by improvised solos, as one would expect from a jazz tune, yet besides the formatting, this song is far removed from jazz both rhythmically and harmonically.  By taking inspiration from the jazz tradition in regards to form, and extending expectations with funky, slapped-bass, distorted guitar soloing and hard-driving grooves from the drums, Koulouris has created a highly-personalized track that can be called instrumental music, yet resists falling into one distinct category or genre.

The key to finding success with an EP is often how an artist programs their repertoire, and not necessarily the songs themselves.  Sometimes having four or five great songs is not enough when they all sound the same.  Koulouris avoids this by choosing a collection of tracks that are distinct, yet linked by their high level of musicianship and creative interpretations.  “Alone” is a track that moves in a new direction, leading the listener down a darker road, creating a more moody atmosphere than the up-tempo opening track.  Complete with screaming guitar melodies, an engaging harmonic progression and laid-back tempo, this track compliments the first by moving in a new musical direction, one that keeps the listener guessing as to what is coming next.

This trend continues with the Latin inspired “Dream-Walking.”  Here, Koulouris brings a Latin rhythm and melodic content to his writing.  Bringing back an up-tempo, the focus in on the tight groove elicited by the rhythm section and the melody lines that float over this beat.  By adding horn background figures to the mix, the saxophonist is also bringing in a new melodic texture to the track, adding a further level of interest and audience engagement.

The short EP finishes with the dance-beat track “Golden Sand.”  Again, we find Koulouris moving in a new rhythmic and textural direction, his fourth in as many tunes.  Bringing in a pop-dance beat may seem a bit out of place, until one hears the track and its infectious groove and catchy melodic line.  Pop tracks can sometimes stick out in an instrumental context, but when written well and programmed right, as is the case here, they can really add to the overall success of the release.  By featuring four different tracks with four different grooves and influences, Koulouris not only provides a window into his artistic tastes, but gives listeners of a wide background something to enjoy on this record.

Overall, …Dare to Dream is an interesting collection of four instrumental track that range from Latin, to dance and funk.  Instrumental music is not for everyone, but fans of the genre will find something to enjoy on this record.

Review by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)