Some ideas work better on paper than on record. Take the attempts to fuse jazz and Greek popular music.
There is, to be sure, a certain logic to the notion. Both traditions share an emphasis on virtuosic improvisation and a foundation in dance rhythms. Rebetika, the mournful songs of heartache, alienation and drug use brought to Greece in the population exchanges of a century ago, is, with some reason, called "the Greek blues."
Yet despite the commonalities, real or imagined, the attempt to make a credible fusion of Greek music and jazz has been elusive and sometimes downright embarrassingdoes anybody remember Phil Woods' Greek Cooking (Impulse!, 1967)?
Athens-born bassist Petros Klampanis cuts the Gordian knot of Greek/jazz synthesis by making an end run around it. On Tora Collective (Enja/Yellowbird Records, 2023), he offers poised, yet heartfelt music characterized by seriousness of purpose and a dignified austerity that would not be out of place in a Euripidean tragedy.
Or an ECM production, which this lovingly produced and scrupulously recorded session inevitably resembles. Everything is in its proper place. The arrangements have the elegant proportions and high polish of Classical sculpture. Paradoxically, this serves to focus the power of the folk- derived laments that are Tora Collective's emotional center of gravity.
On "Sibethera (Cousin)," Klampanis' wine-dark solo bass seems to be asking a question answered by Areti Ketime's clear-toned vocals while synthy shooting stars cross the night sky. The arrangement swells slightly for a plangent Kristjan Randalu piano solo, a deft integration of jazz moves in a Greek folk-song form.
A similar magic animates "Osmantakas," dedicated to the Epirot Albanian leader who, as he was about to be executed for leading a revolt against the Ottomans, asked to dance as his last request. There is a draggy, almost J-Dilla vibe to the rhythm which, balanced by the stateliness of Randalu's piano, adds to the otherworldliness of this scene. Like a filmic dissolve from the smoke of the firing squad, the band melts in into a grave and dignified tsamiko, a warrior dance. Here clarinetist Giorgios Kotsinis, bends, swoops and leaps like a bravura tsamiko dancer, dropping blue notes into his melismatic flurries prodded by Randalu's jazz chords. This is a performance of cinematic sweep and impact and a triumph.
Klampanis's bass is a saturnine presence throughout, watchful and all-knowing. His playing is careful and measured; there's no plate-smashing here. He clearly loves this music and wants to share that love with a worldwide audience.
In Greek, tora means "now," and with this lovely and imaginative release, Petros Klampanis suggests that a fusion of Greek music and jazz can be negotiated with subtlety and sophistication, and that now is the time.
Tora; Enteka; Disoriented; Xehorismata; South by Southeast; Menexedes kai Zouboulia;
Hariklaki; Sibethera; Osmadakas; Milo Mou kai Mantarini.
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