I first became aware of Mr. Petrakis through his work with Ross Daly, and purchased this on a whim.

Glad I did. The audio cut for the samples in no way does the full tracks justice.I read the phrase “Polishing the Diamond” in an interview with Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks jazz drummer). That is the best depiction of what Stelios has done with this album; all his work with multi-cultural multi-instrumentalists has been applied to this fruit (Orion) to perfection.

I tend to find much of Greek & Cretan music to be riotously festive; whirling chains of melodies to a very solid, interesting beat. Two great additions on this disc is common use of bagpipes, and the use of flamenco guitar. To include all the instruments used would be insane. Generally, the album includes rhythm, string, and wind instruments from Greece, Crete, Turkey, Spain, India, northern Africa, Iran, eastern Europe, and the western classical tradition.

What’s striking about this album (that doesn’t happen as much in the cultural music) is it’s blended, symphonic sound. World artists, in collaboration, seem to like to add their musical “two cents” at all times; leading to everyone jamming out very well, but negating a project’s possible breadth. In doing so, the players are very good at creating tracks with a single essence or feeling. This album has a much more premeditatively-symphonic sound; as if many different musical roads & ideas were traveled and ruminated upon before deciding the application within the tune. Any given track will have parts when ‘these’ instruments play, but ‘those’ don’t, for example, and vice versa. Additionally, each instrumentalist’s skills are highlighted, but never dominating for extended periods of time.

Walking through the first four tracks, it’s a fantastic Cretan-style album. But, tracks 5 and 6 are the exception that take it to another level. The former starting out with a most wonderful flamenco-style intro, into beautifully-sung verses, upheld by subtle guitar and slow-rolling bendir (frame drum) beat. The lyrical nature of the melody is accentuated during the chorus harmonies of lyra, cello, and flute. Track 6 has guitar pioneering the way in the beginning as well, breaking into high-speed Balkan-esque folk nature in no time. Despite the 8 1/2 minute length of the track, it never feels repetitive, continuously moving through a series of different melody variations and choice instruments.

Everything I love about the Mediterranean sound, coupled with other elements: flamenco, carnatic (south Indian), Persian, and Balkan. All elements are applied with first-rate production quality, and in complete service of the music as a whole. Maybe the only concerning thing for Stelios Petrakis is that, after making an album of this magnitude, where does one go from here?

Seth Premo (Broomfield, CO), Polishing the diamond

The first few seconds of this disc should be enough to convince anyone that the Cretan lyra isn’t a mere folk fiddle, but a profound and sophisticated instrument of the eastern Mediterranean. Petrakis begins with a powerful lyra solo over a drone bass. The notes are delicately inflected from the warm low register up to the ringing treble. The way the strings are stopped with a touch of the fingernails, rather than the fingers, gives the lyra a delicate, nasal tone. After his introduction the band joins in with an eclectic range of instruments – Bulgarian bagpipes, guitar, cello, hurdy-gurdy, ney flute and distinctive tombak drum from percussionist Bijan Chemirani.

It was Ross Daly who pioneered the refined art of lyra playing for the concert platform, with his interest in modal styles of music from South Asia and the Middle East. Stelios Petrakis, born in Crete in 1975, studied with Daly and plays in his Labyrinth ensemble. He is also a lyra maker and his specially developed model with 22 sympathetic strings is the instrument of choice for many lyra players, including Daly. Its ringing tone contributes much to the quality of this disc.

In addition to the substantial opening track, there’s much gorgeous music here – the dreamy ney and lyra solos in ‘Orion and Pleione’, the wild ‘Syrtos Dance’ and a haunting lullaby sung by Maria Simoglou. An album of the same calibre as Ross Daly’s Beyond the Horizon (Seistron), this is a landmark recording of Cretan lyra music.

Simon Broughton

Compositeur profondément crétois, joueur de laouto, divan saz, çura et de lyra, cette dernière étudiée auprès du maître irlandais Ross Daly, Stelios Petrakis s’est aussi imbibé des musiques de tout le pourtour méditerranéen. Avec l’aide de ses amis crétois, les chanteurs Giorgo Xylouris et Vassilis Stavrakakis, du joueur de ney Haris Lambrakis, de Bijan Chemirani et bien sûr de Ross Daly, il a signé un premier album aussi joliment écrit que finement interprété.

Sous le firmament musical et au carrefour de l’Orient et de l’Europe, brille Orion, le dernier opus du crétois Stelios Petrakis : des voix claires et transparentes sur des textes poétiques et mélancoliques, mélangées à des cordes puissantes comme la foudre de Zeus. Après les « confins du monde » (Akri tou dounia, son dernier opus), ce virtuose s’envole vers la voie lactée où vibrent lyra, luth crétois, kopuz (mandoline), accompagnés des daff, zarb, bendir et autres udu, percussions maniées de mains de maître par Bijan Chemirani… Plus d’instruments scintillants, donc, que de Pléiades chassées par Orion sans jamais pouvoir les atteindre ! Pour les animer, de talentueux musiciens ont traversé les mers, tel le personnage mythologique, pour se rendre en terre crétoise et ainsi donner vie à cet opus abouti.

Gayle Welburn, Mondomix