The concept of Led Zeppelin-meets-Celtic might seem like too much to wrap your brain around, but Kostas Maginas makes the process easy. Maybe too easy.
Seven For A Secret, the second album by the guitarist from Thessaloniki, Greece, is as smooth as a Pat Metheny Group release but with a more ethnically diverse tonal presence. While interesting and pleasant, it also falls short of its artistic potential by too often feeling conventional, instead of delving deeper into some of the concepts it promotes.
The unmistakable Metheny presence, in both tone and phrasing, asserts itself strongly on songs like "Mana Louge Me" and "Mentality," where Maginas' electric waxes lyrically against light backgrounds. He's a proficient disciple, and contributors like singer Maria Papanikolaou on "Mana" offer textural enhancements. The instrumentation is a generally sparse but diverse showcase, with an emphasis on ethnic percussion.
The only problem is those sounds are often expected to fulfill on their own merit, without enough sense of accomplished performance. So while a Baltic folk influence seeps into "Seven Leaves Left," with Theodossi Spassov playing a Bulgarian flute known as a kaval, what emerges are ordinary passages with a slightly different sound. Maginas plays an unaccompanied Bulgarian tampura on "For Arto, a tribute to Armenian percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, but at 1:23 the strumming, somewhat banjo-like composition is like smelling but not tasting an exquisite menu item. Less interesting are smooth compositions lacking ethnic flair, such as "Sketches," a simple rainy-day ballad with potential to captivate but not enough in the sparse notes to hook onto.
As for Zeppelin, which is mentioned prominently by Maginas as an influence, this has to be one of the mellowest recorded tributes in existence, to whatever degree it's here (a personal confession: not being a huge listener, I can't profess great familiarity with what may pass for the group's laid-back work).
This album is a decent smooth listen, but likely to disappoint those expecting something more exotic from its lineup and Maginas' description of the project. The occasional glimpses of originality need to be the focus, unless he's making an effort to capture the lucrative radio crowd, which is well below his abilities. But it's still early in his career, leaving plenty of time for expansion on future projects.
Personnel: Kostas Maginas, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, tambura; Vagelis Kontopoulos,
acoustic and electric basses; Nikos Psofogiorgos, drums, percussion; Iasonas Yeremtzes,
udu, congas, jembi, rek, shaker; Thanos Stavridis, accordion (2, 6-7); Andreas Karakotas,
vocals (4); Theodossi Spassov, kaval (7); Maria Papanikolaou, vocals (8)