Greek born musical arranger, lead guitarist, and bouzouki virtuoso Avram Pengas is a versatile performer who plays popular Israeli hits, exotic Arabic melodies, pulsating Persian and Turkish rhythms, Armenian dances and traditional Yiddish songs. Born in Greece, Pengas is a skilled musical arranger, guitarist, and self-taught bouzouki virtuoso. The bouzouki is a stringed Greek instrument. He creates music that is rooted in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and draws upon Eastern and Western musical elements. Pengas has appeared in New York at El Avram, Café Feenjon, and in 1979, opened his own nightclub, Noga, in the heart of Greenwich Village. He has performed in the off-Broadway production of Hot Klezmer, and can still be heard weekly at SoHo’s Cupping Room Café.
Avram Pengas’ Noga Group has been a staple of New York’s downtown music scene for nearly twenty years. The CD, “Santorini,” is the group’s latest effort (its first being 1983′s self-titled “Noga”) and lakes its name from the beautiful Greek island and the Greenwich Village cabaret that was filled, each week, with the exotic music of the Noga Group. But while Santorini, the cabaret, prided itself on its Greek heritage, “Santorini,” the CD, ffers more diverse pleasures. Pengas’ breathtaking Bouzouki and expressive guitar, Nick Mandoukos’ exquisite guitar, Dick Barsamian’s velvety oud, Lefteri Bournias’ sultry clarinet, Zohar Fresco’s dazzling percussion, and the melodic support of Emmanuel Mann’s fretless bass combine to create a rich musical palette of the entire Mediterranean region and beyond: Israeli pop grooves, sinuous Arabic melodies, pulsating Persian and Turkish rhythms, Latin beats, Armenian dance sounds, even traditional Yiddish folk — all synthesized in a dynamic, often improvisational style that recalls American jazz.
What also sets “Santorini” apart is that it is “Noga uninhibited.” With this CD, the Group sets a somewhat different mood: While previous recordings tended to recreate the live nightclub sound, this recording was made for listening as much as dancing. The resulting vibe is fresh and innovative. Ethnic! Of course. Jazzy? Definitely. Modern, infectious, and kinetic!