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Thursday, April 04, 2019

CD Review: Sokratis Sinopoulos -Metamodal

Sokratis Sinopoulos (Lyra); Yann Keerim (Piano); Dimitris Tsekouras (Double Bass); Dimitris Emmanouil (Drums). 
(Review by Chris)

The second of three ECM releases in March from the southern shores of Europe. You have to hand it to him, not only has ECM’s Manfred Eicher scoured Europe from North to South in his quest for the new well/spring of world music, but he is also not scared of unfamiliar jazz instrumentation! The bandoneon of Dominic Miller’s latest release (reviewed here on BSH) is outdone (not least in age) by the Cretan lyra played by contemporary master Sinopoulos, recorded in Athens last July. Too hot to have been Eicher’s summer holiday I imagine.

The lyra, which dates back to Byzantine times, is a tiny (29 cm strings) viol played upright on the lap, with three strings played with a bow, but stopped by sideways pressure from the fingernails rather than pinning against the fingerboard as for a violin. My Greek colleague tells me it is the mainstay of southerly Greek folk music, fuelling dancing for millennia, but here undergoing a rather different treatment in Sinopoulous’ hands. 

He studied with Ross Daly, a Brit who has spent 35 years in Crete reviving and redefining the lyra, before forming this quartet with debut album Eight Winds for ECM in 2014.  To my ears, the plaintive cry of the lyra, in a folk framework with a classic chamber jazz trio, recalls the exceptional Polish jazz violin star, Adam Baldych (who has just released his latest work on rival label ACT), but without Baldych’s range and extravagant flourishes.

This album takes the quartet forward with confidence, aiming to explore and extend modal music. All good jazzers will be familiar with a few modes, but we should remember that the Greeks invented it all a long time ago!  Sinopoulos says he aims here to not move beyond modes but to work through them...synthesising something new on the way through the centrepiece tracks of the album:  Metamodal I, II and III.

The opener, Lament, is aptly named, with the lyra weaving a slow and sad line above piano and bass. Track two, Metamodal I – Liquid, has a similarly paced intro, but the abrupt entry of the percussion lends more tempo and drama, over a faster, nimble bass line.  The third track, Transition, is shorter - a light, catchy number with swooping lead on lyra, leading into the 10 minutes of Metamodal II – Illusions

This again starts slowly, and in exploratory style, with sparse piano interleaved with the plangent lyra, changing halfway through to a faster section with all four players fully interlocking.

Metamodal III – Dimensions opens with ponderous piano chords, joined by first the lyra, then the bass, working through modal sequences, like an elegant practice set of arpeggios and scales.  This eventually relaxes into a looser amble through spacey chords under beautiful lyrical melodies from the lyra.

Walking starts with a lively repeated piano figure, and runs at pace joined by a lyra tune which wouldn’t be out of place in Celtic folk. This gives way to a middle section of slower, more modal musing and closes with a reprise of the earlier, jaunty jig. 

Dawn is another subtle exploration of intricate melodic lines over a delicate, rolling wash of piano and percussion, frequently returning to a lovely motif interspersed with freer passages.

Red Thread has perhaps the most languorous and lovely line of the many on the album, sitting over relaxed piano. Not obvious how this mood relates to the “red thread” Theseus used to escape from the labyrinth on Crete after killing the Minotaur! 

The final track, Mnemosyne, is a short collective improvisation, which Eicher encourages all his artists to attempt, with different degrees of success. The title means "remembrance, memory" but, I have to say, it was rather forgettable!

Overall, an intriguing and sophisticated album of chamber jazz with a distinctive Greek flavour from the modal framework and lyra’s yearning sound. The unusual feel draws attention away from Sinopoulos’ extraordinary gift for melodic invention. I for one will look out for future developments from this unlikely direction. Could be consumed on its own, or in the background on a sunny day, relaxing over an ouzo with ice….
Chris Kilsby
Release date: 15.03.2019 ECM 2631

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