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Spiros Exaras-World Jazz Ensemble: Phrygianics

Phil DiPietro By

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Phrygianics, named for the most exotic mode of the major scale, is the new ?world-jazz? release from guitarist Spiros Exaras, who hails from Thessaloniki. Spiros has been in New York since 1996, where he's worked with folks such as Randy Brecker, Harvie S, Mark Egan and a Glitter -free Mariah Carey. He's got a cast of great players on hand here, including a couple that certainly spur interest in this offering: Matt Garrison on bass and Gene Lake on drums, two of the world?s most elite, virtuosic and swinging players.

We also have Armenian master percussionist and intriguingly urgent, languageless-syllabic vocalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan ,who provides a poignant sheen to the entire outing. On much of his work, including the opener here, "Phrygianics," his vocalizations impart a palpable feel for the passion, appreciation and verve for existence best summarized in the title of his own solo CD Every Day is a New Life. At the two-minute mark, this transitions into what sounds like a funky Armenian folk song on which pianoman Henry Hey sprinkles fairy dust. Exaras' solo, executed ultra-cleanly on his medium-width jazz box, provides the example of his tone and technique employed on electric throughout - linear, scale-based, inside and accessible. In large part, it's the compositions, not the improvisations (save those of the talented clarinetist Lefteris Bournias) that provide the outsidexotic "world" yang to the inside "world fusion" yin of this outing.

On "Reincarnation" Hey's human-sequenced piano sets up a familiar fusion fanfare, then root-fifth groove, that becomes unfamiliar as Bournias displays his microtonal and chromatic scalar chops on clarinet. This harmonically adventurous improv is followed on its heels by Exaras' conventional excursion, using immaculate technique over driving drums to make the emotional point.

"Deer's Leap" uses classical guitar and smoother stylings for a jazz waltz, saved from convention by Garrison's extremely creative and all-to-himself bass chord and fill-laced accompaniment, as well as Lake's just-low-enough-in-the-mix kit splattering. About three minutes in, Hey, Garrison and Lake take the song over, providing a needed edge to the proceedings. Hey's solo begins with two-handed unison work highlighting rhythmatism, displacing the beat a bit until waylaying into right hand linearity while the left stacks harmonies, Garrison providing liquid fills.

"Do You Hear Me?" begins with Arto's plaintively quavering yodel echoed by Garrison's trilling pull-offs. The opening progression is again fusion-familiar, all sweet emotive arpeggiation, until 100 seconds in, Garrison blasts it into the stratosphere with a mercurial dart to the heart. Emotion melds with fluid technique to forge a brilliantly staggering 40 seconds, one of those stunning passages that'll have you reaching for the rewind button. This not only kicks Exaras into his best nylon pumping of the outing, but also serves as the precise point in the listening experience that tips the scale in favor of "artistic" statement versus "smooth" contrivance. Now the concept becomes clearer: "Give the people consonance, musical familiarity, with their panethnicism and they shall come. Let's not challenge them for the duration like those Knitting Factory guys!"

"Keeping the Promise" is Hey's star-turn, beginning with signature cyclic piano. Strident fusion shuffle meets Euroethnic chant, and again, each player adds their special thing under Exaras' extended explorations-especially enjoyable are Hey's comping ideas underneath all this linearity. Lake provides drumming as energetic, ferocious and fusionistic as you will ever find underpinning anything this downright pleasant. Kick up your volume a quarter past the usual to hear Hey and Lake play off of each other during a section rife with rhythmic invention and pianistic percussiveness. It's hard to figure out who's listening and who's playing. Want more specificity? Cue up the section between 5:30 and 6:10 to hear the most vicious fusion interaction between drum and piano in 2002!

On "Thrace-Bop" drums are front and center again, Lake's thrilling power-swing-jazz filling up the sound spectrum like a heavy metal Elvin Jones or a more jazzbo Dennis Chambers. Bournias' left field, world-class chops are showcased on the 7/8 section, and slamming them up against a jazz 4/4 swing showcasing the leader's should do more to get these kinds of sounds heard. So should the independent effort of Laughing Buddha Productions , their re-seller CDBABY and Spiros himself .


Track Listing: 1. Phrygianics, 2. Reincarnation, 3. Deer's Leap, 4. Do You Hear Me?, 5. Keeping The Promise, 6. Virtue Is Gone, 7. Ode To Aegean, 8. Thrace Bop, 9. Three Years Ago, 10. I Will Never Forget

Personnel: Henry Hey-piano, Matthew Garrison-bass , Gene Lake-drums, Arto Tuncboyacian-percussion/vocals, Lefteris Bournias- Creek clarinet, clarinet

Title: Phrygianics | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Laughing Buddha Records

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