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Athens Aqua Jazz Festival 2018

Athens Aqua Jazz Festival 2018
Francesco Martinelli By

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Athens Aqua Jazz Festival
Athens, Greece
July 9-12 2018

Jazz, like many other things, lives a precarious life in post-crisis Greece. Despite a widespread talent, as demonstrated by the numerous jazz musicians from Greece who live and record abroad and overseas, the jazz scene in Greece is fragmented and much dependent on local conditions: the major jazz teaching program is in the island of Corfu, and international jazz events happen in the summer not necessarily in Athens, like the Jazz on the Hill at the Sani Tourist Resort in Kassandra, Halkidiki. So the joint initiative of the Athens Conservatory and the Athens and Epidaurus festival to organize a four-days event of concerts, panels and seminar in July 2018 is even more relevant.

On the busy road connecting the airport to the center, the Conservatory of Athens (established 1871) is located in a monumental building designed by the famous Greek architect Ioannis Despotopoulos in a modernist, Bauhaus-inspired style and is currently being repurposed in a complete renovation in order to become a hub of musical and cultural activities. The jazz events took place, appropriately, in an underground space that was designed as storage but has been transformed in a very cool performance venue. Planned by saxophonist Dimos Dimitriadis, one of the leading jazz teachers of Greece with a wide international experience and currently director of the Ionian University Jazz Programme, the festival was designed to reflect on the history of jazz in Greece with a series of afternoon panels, and to present some of its most innovative groups in a series of double evening concerts thanks also to the collaboration with Berklee's Global Jazz Institute. Notably Dimitriadis himself did not play in the program—a classy touch.

Day 1

I was personally honored to be invited to present, in the opening panel discussion, the forthcoming book about the History of Jazz in Europe, together with the author of the Greek entry in the book. Pianist Sakis Papadimitriou is a key personality in Greek jazz history in more than one way, and Dimos himself. The concert program opened with violist Michalis Katachanas and his pianoless quartet—a continuous set of pieces segueing one into the other, led by the dynamic improvisation of the leader: his viola has such a beautiful, deeply resonant tone, suited both to ballads and to more rhythmically driven pieces. Reinventing here and there fragments of Greek musical tradition—an unavoidable confrontation—the music was however thoroughly modern, fresh and involving, thanks to the energy and stage presence of Katachanas himself. Thodoris Kotsifas on guitar, Ntinos Manos on bass and Vassilis Podaras on drums provided uncluttered, clean background and quick reactions to the viola solos. Totally different mood and presentation for the following set, ney specialist Haris Lambrakis and his long-standing quartet. Ney—the Mediterranean end-blown flute often associated with the music of mystic sufi confraternities—has a long history and comes with powerful associations, especially in Greece where all Oriental-inspired music has always been regarded by nationalists with a degree of suspect. Lambrakis, internationally known for his contribution to Savina Yannatou's Primavera en Salonico band, transformed the ney in a new, flexible and overtones-rich instrument, launching his quartet with Dimitris Theocharis on piano, Dimitris Tsekouras on bass and experienced, powerful drummer Nikos Sidirokastritis into long improvisations with the ney flying and chirping above the tumultuous sound of the trio. The spirit of Coltrane and his modal exploration was very present, and the set included peaceful, meditative ballads. A successful, original integration that kept the audience spellbound, a band that up to now did not have a fraction of the international exposure that it should enjoy.

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