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Sommer / Yannatou / Floridis / Voulgaris / Kastanis: Songs for Kommeno

John Eyles By

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Songs for Kommeno was recorded between March 2011 and April 2012, as a homage to the village of Kommeno on the west coast of Greece. In 1943, soldiers of the German Wehrmacht massacred 317 of Kommeno's civilian inhabitants and torched the village. A 156-page book accompanies the CD, containing first-person accounts detailing the experiences of a few survivors of the German occupation of Greece who later went to Germany as migrant (or "guest") workers. They reveal the potential for resentment and ill- feeling between the two nations, and make it all the more remarkable that Dresden-born drummer Günter "Baby" Sommer masterminded this recording. Sommer has said, "What I can give is music. This is why I decided to develop a music project which puts the focus on the name of the village Kommeno and the memory of the suffering of the victims."

Given Sommer's history as a free improviser—including landmark recordings with pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Peter BrötzmannSongs for Kommeno may surprise some listeners. The drummer is joined by four Greek musicians, Floris Floridis on soprano saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, vocalist Savina Yannatou, bassist Spilios Kastanis and Evgenis Voulgaris on oud and yayli tanbur. Although they have experience as improvisers, the album consists of a suite of Sommer compositions—the "songs" of the album title—which combine their sounds together in music with a distinctive Greek flavor to it, characterized by the sustained drone of bowed strings plus melodic reed work from Floridis. Throughout, Gunter's playing underpins everything, with his subtle use of a variety of percussion effects adding coloration and emphasis to his music.

The fragile beauty of Yannatou's voice is key to the music, successfully conveying the emotional impact of the events it remembers. Time and again, her wordless vocals are effectively contrasted with other instruments to emphasis the vulnerability of the voice. On "Andartes," there is a stark contrast between the strict military-style rhythms laid down by Gunter's drums and the looseness of the voice. The album's longest track, "Marias Miroloi," achieves drama by setting the voice against some brutal, hard-edged saxophone in a passage that can be heard as a musical recreation of the massacre.

Yet, the real strength of Songs for Kommeno is that it does not attempt to be "programme music," giving a musical account of the events of 1943. In fact, the music here will be just as beautiful and affecting for those who have no knowledge of what happened in Kommeno all those years ago. A stunning achievement.

Track Listing: Tears; Lost Ring; Andartes; Marias Miroloi; Arachthos; Lullaby; Children Song; Kommeno Today.

Personnel: Günter "Baby" Sommer: drums, percussion, direction; Savina Yannatou: voice; Floros Floridis: soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Evgenios Voulgaris: yayli tanbur, oud; Spilios Kastanis: bass.

Title: Songs for Kommeno | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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