Xylouris White
The Sisypheans

(Drag City)


The epic seems to exude everything Australian-Greek duo Xylouris White do. As is customary to each of their releases, The Sisypheans included, the first track recalls something like the opening lines of Homer’s Odyssey, in which the storyteller appeals for a tale from the ancients, a plea of “speak, memory”. It’s easy to believe we’ve heard ‘Tree Song’ before — opening their previous triad of albums Goat, Black Peak and Mother — George Xylouris’ laouto setting a scene like the opening sitar drone of a raga, as drummer Jim White scrambles for a rhythmic thread, never once having the audacity to drown out Xylouris with the chime of a cymbal. It’s rare to find such sensory interplay between two formidable players outside the realm of free jazz, and rarely do free jazz musicians seem as adept at conjuring a vivid story through sound alone. This is especially true of Xylouris White if you understand as little Greek as I do.

But then again, how does newness emerge into your world when your musical laurels rest so firmly within tradition? Xylouris White’s sound, as thoroughly inspired by the ancient folk music of Greece as it is, seems continually on the cusp of some unspeakable more, and asks for a subtler ear for slight changes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but much of The Sisypheans is predicated on hearing the same songs, over and over again. But as Albert Camus wrote in 1955, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”. If it’s good enough for Xylouris White, it’s good enough for us.

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