Drummer, percussionist and composer George Lernis to Release Between Two Worlds, a musical allegory of his journey from Cyprus to America, on June 10th via DÜNYA
George Lernis is a drummer, percussionist and composer whose unique musical influences and upbringing meld to create a sound and vision that stands unparalleled in the present-day jazz and creative music scene. Born and raised in Cyprus, Lernis’ musicianship was inspired by the traditions of the Mediterranean and Middle East and continued to flourish as he developed a passion for the heritage and performance of jazz. Now, following his album Shapes of Nature, Lernis presents a profound musical and societal statement with Between Two Worlds, due out June 10th, 2022 via DÜNYA. Drawing on his roots, jazz tradition and poetry, Lernis creates a unified sonic presence that transcends the conventional boundaries of both nations.
Between Two Worlds is a natural musical outpouring and expression of Lernis’ passions. As an immigrant himself, he cares deeply about the perception and portrayal of immigrants within America, as well as the plight of those seeking to escape war on a wider scale. The music on Between Two Worlds seeks to respectfully represent and promote an appreciation of the beauty carried by immigrants and their cultures through Lernis’ careful and thoughtful amalgamation of musical idioms.
Conceptually, this album – and Lernis’ research of the same title – was inspired by its namesake poem – a 15th century work by Turkish mystic Hacı Bayram Veli. Over the course of his studies, Lernis extracted a parallel meaning between the poem and his personal journey immigrating from Nicosia, Cyprus to the United States. Experientially held between two worlds, Lernis’ musical offering here is appropriately grounded and proficient in both. America’s rich jazz history and the deep musical traditions of the Middle Eastern find a distinct and brilliant overlap in Between Two Worlds.
Reflecting his hybrid identity, Lernis’ compositional blend on Between Two Worlds introduces a vehicle for improvisation. He incorporates microtonal modes (makams), Turkish rhythmic cycles (usuls) and a myriad of traditional Middle Eastern instruments, while crafting soundscapes that are subtly familiar yet feel entirely new.
The album’s cornerstone work is the suite the album is named for. Containing three movements and an interlude, “Between Two Worlds” exhibits the musical influence from Lernis’ time studying with his friend and mentor, the GRAMMY®-nominated Turkish pianist Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol.
“Mehmet was gracious enough to take me under his wing,” Lernis says. “He introduced me to the magical worlds of sufism (Islamic mysticism) and Hacı Bayram Veli, zikir (ostinato used in sufi devotion), makam, and usul as well as the beauty of gongs as found in Indonesian Gamelan.” The movements are entitled “Origins,” “Zikir,” and “Arrival,” and directly map onto the concepts of Lernis’ journey and duality. The album’s opening track, entitled “Prayer,” is inspired by the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis based on a poem co-written by the leader and his mother, Eliza. It opens with a recitation of the poem by vocalist Burcu Güleç and leads into dynamic improvisational sections. “With the poem at the beginning setting up a dark quality, the solo sections build on that with a sense of storytelling through improvisation,” reflects Lernis. The closing tune, “Kalinihta (Goodnight)” was inspired by Lernis’ son, Panos. “I turned Panos’ voice saying “goodnight” in Greek into a music composition which opens up to free improvisation sections,” Lernis explains. “‘Kalinihta’ resembles the ritual of putting my son to bed every night.”
The personnel chosen by Lernis are a perfectly eclectic blend of backgrounds that serve the music and the message in the most profound of ways. Notably, this album features the bass icon John Patitucci on both upright and electric bass. “John is one of the kindest souls that I have met in my life,” Lernis says. “When he came in the studio to record with the group he came in with an extremely positive vibe warming up the environment.” Lernis’s mentor, Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol, is featured on the album on piano, vocals, and oud. “I would like to acknowledge the help of Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol as a co-producer from the inception of this project. I have participated as a performer in many of Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol’s projects in the past which inspired me through my research and resulted in the conception of this album.” One of the elements in the band that allowed this album to work so well was its balance in the personnel, exemplified by the combination of vocalist Burcu Güleç and trumpeter Emiel de Jaegher. “Burcu is an excellent vocalist experienced in a variety of traditions including jazz and Middle Eastern musics. Emiel de Jaegher, on the other hand, comes from a jazz background with an ear for contemporary production techniques and alternative styles,” Lernis adds. Lastly, a longtime mentor of the bandleader, Berklee faculty member Bruno Raberg, is a featured bassist on “Sailing Beyond.” Lernis finds himself at the drum set along with a variety of percussion instruments, and the mandalli santur (hammered dulcimer with microtonal levers).
On Between Two Worlds, Lernis has fashioned a groundbreaking and salient creative statement that informs listeners of how cultures, heritages and histories can merge and blossom together. Where moments of intimacy and introspection find themselves adjacent to sounds of ferocious cries, Between Two Worlds stands as a testament to the indomitability of the human spirit and the profound wonder of diversity.