Last May, multi-instrumentalists Chipper Thompson and Roger Landes broke their hiatus of more than a decade to play their wildly original bouzouki tunes in Alamosa, Colorado, and Santa Fe. Now, Thompson and Landes are revitalizing the Taos sound waves with their impressive collection inspired by Mediterranean, Balkan, Mexican and Southern U.S. tunes, as well as their gifted imaginations.
Last May, multi-instrumentalists Chipper Thompson and Roger Landes broke their hiatus of more than a decade to play their wildly original bouzouki tunes in Alamosa, Colorado, and Santa Fe. The duo had composed the tunes for their groundbreaking CD for two bouzoukis, "The Janissary Stomp," released in 2001. Now, Thompson and Landes are revitalizing the Taos sound waves with their impressive collection inspired by Mediterranean, Balkan, Mexican and Southern U.S. tunes, as well as their gifted imaginations.
Landes and Thompson present their "Janissary Stomp" show at 7 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 23) at the Philip Bareiss Gallery, 15 State Road 150, north of El Prado. Tickets at the door are $15; no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
The Irish bouzouki's rich twists and turns and the heft of its sound make it a dynamic and versatile instrument. In the long-necked lute family, the Irish bouzouki is a spinoff from the Greek bouzouki and has eight or 10 strings. When the bouzouki is doubled, that is, when two bouzouki players perform together, it's a comprehensive jamboree.
"For us, it's really exciting to play this music in Taos, because it's so much about our friendship which came together in Taos," Landes said. "To return to that music … is a real treat."
For many years, Landes ran ZoukFest, a festival devoted to the bouzouki - first in Missouri, then in New Mexico. In fact, Landes told me the bouzouki is what first brought him to Taos, which is where he bumped into Thompson.
It was the spring of 1992 when Landes first came to Taos to pick up a bouzouki that Stephen Owsley Smith was making for him. Smith invited Landes to come back and stay a few weeks, which Landes eventually did. When he did, Smith invited Landes to open for a gig at the now-defunct Kit Carson Road coffeehouse Caffe Tazza. Headliners were the Hagstones (a Taos band with Chipper Thompson, Kim Treiber and Kirsten Parsons). It was the first time Landes had ever played solo, and he blew everybody away.
In fact, Thompson told me that the Hagstones didn't want to play after hearing Landes' solo. He was that good. The four went out that night after the show, and Landes and Thompson became fast friends. Landes, who was living in Missouri, would come to Taos to visit with Thompson and his late wife, the artist Lanford Monroe. But they did not play music together. Their styles seemed too different.
Then, on one of his visits to Taos in 1998, Landes was messing around on the bouzouki when Thompson walked in, grabbed another bouzouki and started playing slide. "We were laughing about it because it came out of nowhere and seemed kind of silly and kind of cool," Landes said. "Lanford comes in … and was smiling over her cup of tea. She said, 'So when are you guys going to make a record?'"
Landes said that was a pivotal moment. It precipitated Thompson and Landes creating the tunes for "The Janissary Stomp" and recording the album.
"We wrote a bunch of tunes that sound like what they are, which is two Americans guys writing tunes influenced by Mediterranean music, original Greek bouzouki music, Turkish music on the saz and all kinds of music from around the Mediterranean played on the oud," Thompson commented.
He and Landes were also inspired by the music and multistringed instruments from Veracruz, Mexico. "We were writing tunes that were homages -- inspired by the music that inspired us," Thompson added.
In the middle of the recording process, Lanford Monroe unexpectedly died. Landes said for this reason, and because she gave them the spark of inspiration for recording an album, her memory is indelibly interwoven with this music.
Landes' background is in traditional Irish and Scottish music, Medieval European music and a smattering of Mediterranean-based world music. Thompson's is an eclectic blend of Appalachian ballads, rock 'n' roll, blues and a similar splash of Mediterranean influence. It was because of this dramatic difference in styles that the two friends took a while to play together, though they both admired each other's abilities and style.
Thankfully, they did eventually figure out how to blend their styles. The unlikely pairing of these two musicians is a treat to behold. It's not every day we get to hear bouzouki music here in Taos. And, it's definitely not every day that we get to hear two bouzoukis playing in tandem. This is rich, tapestried expression, with a galloping energy and wide horizons.
Incidentally, "The Janissary Stomp" is named for one of the tunes on the CD, and in tribute to the Janissaries - the elite infantry of the sultan in Ottoman Turkey. According to Landes, the Janissaries had a military band which was the inspiration for military bands in Europe and the United States.
For more information about the show, call (575) 613-2203 or visit janissarystomp.com.
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