Xylouris White review: Whispers, blood and fury from instinctive improvisers

XYLOURIS​ WHITE ★★★★

Blue Mountains Theatre, September 21

George Xylouris and Jim White.

George Xylouris and Jim White.

Xylouris​ White don't do polite folkloric​ music. They direct-inject us with the culture that spawned the blood and fury of such characters as Theseus​. Nor are they obsessed with priggish, academic authenticity. In an age when music groans beneath so many sub-genres as to make them all obsolete, George Xylouris​ and Jim White don't try to squash their fully rounded concept into someone else's square box. They simply revel in making the music that results from being who they are: a Cretan​ lutenist and singer, and a New York-based Melbourne rock drummer.

Yet their shared musical territory is vast and ever-expanding. The primary commonality is that they are both instinctive, genuine improvisers – as opposed to those who flirt with licks and variations. You don't have to hear two gigs in a row to know they never play a song exactly the same way twice. Nor do they ever tread musical water: all is in a state of constant flux, whether in terms of texture, mood, dynamics or energy. Grooves (gentle or frenzied) suddenly erupt from rubato passages, only to melt away again until the time is suspended like a heart in a jar of alcohol. This suspension, too, might result in a whispered sound-world or a sea of turbulence, and the most extraordinary aspect of the primal power they generate is that it can be at least as torrential in these rubato phases as when they hammer a traditional riff with a post-punk backbeat​.

Sustaining such intensity is challenging, and here early sound problems conspired against it happening as routinely as it did later. Then White's balletic playing became a constant dance between implements – mallets, brushes, sticks and more – for textural variation, and Xylouris's​ singing ranged from subterranean depths to a heavenly falsetto; from a lullaby that barely frosted the air particles between us and him to the rubato cyclone the pair unleashed to close, in which energy levels that had seemingly climaxed proved mere stepping stones to even more stupendous peaks.

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