Demotika hipper than Americans
Herald Tribune - January 1999
"Mode Plagal mix African and Macedonian music with a healthy splash of jazz and funk for rave reviews"
(by George Kolyvas)
"Mode Plagal is hipper than any Americal record I've heard in a long time". This was how the U.S. trade magazine "Modern Drummer" described Mode Plagal's self-titled debut release in 1995, giving the Greek band a five-star rating for their album.
Fusing demotika (traditional or folk) melodies mainly from the northern Greek regions of Macedonia, Thrace, and Epirus with transantlantic groove, jazz, soul and funk elements, Mode Plagal have urbanized the sounds of rural Greece, in the process creating a new branch on the spreading tree of ethnic jazz.
"The [inspiration] for what we're doing actually came from Chicago, after relatives of saxofonist Thodoris [Rellos] asked him to send them some demotika", said Mode Plagal drummer Takis Kanellos. "The relatives sent back tapes of some of the tracks, and one day Thodoris played a tape for me while driving back to Athens from Thessaloniki. the music excited me. I felt strange having ingnored demotika music for so many years. I had grown up on rock- The Who, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin- and later discovered jazz. But I suddenly realized there was an abundance of material in demotika.
Kanellos and the other two members of the band's original lineup -Rellos and guitarist Kleon Antoniou- had first met 20 years ago, keeping up their acquaintance as they filtered through various rock and jazz outfits, together and individually. But it wasn't until the Thessaloniki road trip about eight years ago that they discovered their shared fascination with demotika, and were so impresses by its potential that they began to let it penetrate their playing styles.
"We don't alter the rhythms and melodies. But the demotika songs are made funkier by the sound," said Kanellos.
The discovery provided the bond for Mode Plagal, as the three launched their own band and began to inject jazz and funk into Greek sounds. Five years later, the first sign of their effort to spice things up surfaced in their self-titled debut album on which they were joined by multi-instrumentalist Antonis Maratos, who provided percussion in the final recording sessions.
Rave reviews for the album and numerous performances throughout Greece expanded their following paving the way for "Mode Plagal II", their newly released second album. The band will play two concert dates soon in Athens - the Rodon Club gig on January 29 and a prestige gig at the Megaron Musikis on February 17.
With Maratos now playing electric bass and a new percussionist, Angelos Polychroniou, on board, Mode Plagal's groove-oriented experimentation with traditional Greek music has never sounded more potent.
"I think that the main difference between the first album and the second is that we have now moved closer to an American sound in terms of instrumentation: a standard line-up of electric bass, electric guitar, drums, horns and percussion. The sound texture approaches a jazz-soul-Latin-funk feel. On the first record we used double bass, played by long-time friend and composer Michalis Siganidis, on just a few tracks," said Kanellos, "and bass is an integrap part of jazz and funk."
Indicative of Mode Plagal's musical prowess and the strong sense of communication that binds its players is the minimal amount of time it took to produce the second album. Eight of the album's sixteen tracks were recorded on a one-take philosophy over just three days last summer, while another was taken from a live performance at the Half Note jazz club in Athens.
Although most of the songs on "Mode Plagal II" are instrumentals, three feature original demotika lyrics sung in harmony by the band. On "Pikrodafni", a song from Epirus about a man who dreams he lost his love to a rival, and is invited to be the best man at their wedding, Mode Plagal get support from some musician friends for an effervescent vocal performance that knocks the blues right out of a melancholic tale. The contrast between groove and demotika is sharpest here, but as with most tracks on the album, does not dampen the authentic spirit, but rather send them soaring.
Kanellos sees the United States as having played a leading role in shaping contemporary music.
"I think that the fusion of immigrants from various countries with historical depth resulted in brilliant music that opened new horizons and, because of the cultural fusion that was unique to America, could not have been created elsewhere," he said. "What I mean to say is that America has influenced countless generations of musicians all over the world and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the country for it."
As for Mode Plagal's new album: "I think it's a good opportunity for Americans to hear our music played in a ways that is also theirs. You know, as Karlheinz Stockhausen has said: 'each individual carries inside him all mankind, its sounds and its rhythms.'"