Thursday, July 14, 2011

The 4 Levels of Existence...

...of Nikos Grapsas, born 1957 in Lefkada island, Greece.
Nikos Grapsas has been a member in some of the most important Greek bands  including Paralos, The 4 Levels of Existence, Dynameis tou Aigaiou (Aegean Forces), Trihordo, Avaton, Nearhou Paraplous. He has a rich solo career too as well as many collaborations with great composers like Hatzidakis, Markopoulos, Stavrianos, Halaris etc.

Besides his classical studies, his passion for folk and traditional music of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans makes him expand his studies to cover Byzantine music and the Turkish and Arabic music systems. He is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer.

So here are the "4 levels of existence" of Nikos Grapsas:

LEVEL 1: Heavy Progressive/Psychedelic

The 4 Levels of Existence was a heavy progressive/psychedelic band of the 70s. Grapsas played the guitar, sang and contributed in compositions. They recorded only one LP which was released in 1976 in only a few copies.
Many consider this a masterpiece of the 70s progressive rock. As the years past this album became very famous among collectors all over the world and changed hands for more than 800$.

The album has been re-issued in LP, CD, mp3 format. Check the official site.

But the story does not end here: in 2009 a representative of the American rapper and producer Jay Z calls the ex-band members to ask permission to include a sample of their song in the forthcoming Jay Z album Blueprint 3. Permission granted and some 33 years later their music contributes to a worldwide smash hit.

So here’s the original: The 4 Levels of Existence – Some day in Athens [1976]

…and here’s the same song sampled: Jay Z – Run this town [2009]

LEVEL 2: The Traditional/Byzantine/Folk

As mentioned, Nikos Grapsas had a genuine passion for traditional music. During early 80s he and fellow musicians Tsiamoulis, Klapakis, Zevgolis and Tambouris, create a band, Dynameis tou Aigaiou (Aegean Forces) focusing on alternative interpretations of traditional songs of the Mediterranean and the Balkans but also creating original ones in the same spirit.

Byzantine scales, Balkan rhythms and ecclesiastic chant is present in all 4 of their recordings. The use of almost forgotten traditional instruments and the element of improvisation on traditional routes creates an influential example that many bands or artists followed in the next years. 

Here’s an original composition from their second album. The lyrics belong to Nobel prize winner, poet Odysseas Elytis:

Dynameis tou Aigaiou – Kokkino Alogo (Red Horse) [1987]

Level 3: The Electro/Ambient/World

In 1988 Panagiotis Xydias and Giannis Papadakis form Avaton, a band that focuses in ancient Greek music seen from a cultural exchange prism and influenced by Indian music, Armenian music and music of the Minor East. Nikos Grapsas soon joined Avaton and contributed in their 1st album with same name, released in 1991 by Manos Hatzidakis record company, Seirios.

The lyrics belong to ancient Greek poet Sappho (in ancient Greek)
Avaton released their 2nd album (without Grapsas) in 1993. Their 3rd album, Ex Adokito (Unforeseen as it was) includes new versions of the 1st and 2nd album compositions (including Grapsas compositions from the first album). There is a 4th release in 2001, Cosmon, based on Heraclitus and Epicurus words.

Here’s Avaton - Aerion Epeon Arhomai (With a Few Celestial Words I Shall Begin) [1996]

Level 4: The Solo journey

Nikos Grapsas moves from rock to eastern traditional music with ease. Here are two examples from two of his solo albums.

Perdika mou (My Partridge) from the Mia Kori Apo Tin Amorgo (A Fair Maiden from Amorgos) album of 1996. A double album including 13 songs, with traditional instruments but original orchestration.

The other side on Nikos Grapsas solo career is the one trying to unite eastern and western influences.
Mikri Erotes sti Lypimeni Poli (Young love in Sad City) album was released in 1997 and finds Nikos going electric again (after 4 Levels of Existence days) but also maintaining lot of traditional elements resulting in a unique blend of music.

Here’s To telos enos kalokairinou erota (The end of a summer love) from this album

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