Mode Plagal II
The second album of Mode Plagal moves gracefully across genres such as jazz, ethnic funk or trance and makes music sound the way Simonides, the ancient Greek writer described it, "just like pouring wine". Mode Plagal is the band's name but also "their manner". And in Mode Plagal II they prove what that means.
Folk Roots - November 1999
How closely connected can American jazz and Greek folk be? Can Greek folk absorb jazz beats without being diluted?
Mode Plagal are an exciting Greek folk-jazz band. Their first album mixed free funk with traditional songs from Thrace and Macedonia (the original one, not the former Yugoslavian). But things are quiet different here. Mode Plagal quit far-out jazz improvisation in favor of the song format even when they do not use lyrics. Secondly they play 70's jazz funk in the style of Miles Davis and early Kool & The Gang, inspired by the joyful and communal spirit of Greek panygiria. "Funky Vergina" begins as a mixture of jazz-funk and Northern Greece folk, turns to Afrocuban and back to Greek folk. "Miles' Leventiko" mixes "So What" with the "Leventikos" dance from Epirus. They turn the "Kalamatianos" dance into a Charlie Parker bebop song. "Kalanta" starts with "Afro-Blue" played in a hi-life style. And just when you are ready to decide that King Sunny Ade was from Salonica, they explode in a jolly folk style ending in acapella. The album continues like this, with Theodoros Rellos using his sax as Greek klarino and all the musicians play for their right to pary.
It's been a long time since I heard such a groovy Greek album that really defies categorisation. I cannot think of a better Greek act for Womad to consider and you can't find a better live band in Greece.
Athens News - February 1999
Ebullient originality and improvisational skill describe the audibly provocative new CD by Greek jazz band, Mode Plagal. "Mode Plagal II" is the long-awaited follow-up to the group's 1995 album "Mode Plagal", on the alternative Ano Kato Records label. Full of inventive touces, this just-out album gives the listener a taste of jazz as seen through the eyes -and ears- of innovative Greek musicians.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mode Plagal: Thodoris Rellos on alto saxophone, Kleon Antoniou on electric guitar, Antonis Maratos on electric bass, Takis Kanellos on drums and Angelos Polychroniou on percussion. These skilled musicians dared to "jazzify" Greek traditional music (demotika) and the outcome is indeed impressive. Conventional ingredients of the demotika have been enhanced with thick icings of jazz harmonies and distinctive bass lines.
They have resourcefully taken a marginalised music and literally given it a new lease of life. And these audacious improvisers don't hide their influences either, instead, they put them on centre stage transforming these blatant borrowings into a newly emerging musical style that has the melodic appeal of fine jazz and the weightier rhythmic line of the Greek demotika tradition.
By skillfully manipulating the musical time of a traditional tune from western Macedonia they come up with "Funky Vergina", an attractive example of jazz improv with sax, bass and drum solos intact. The best thing about this CD is that these guys bring conviction to what they do, and the penetrating clarity of their individual performances bears that out. Those who attended last week's performance at the Megaron know that all too well. With a set of personal modes and a radical approach, Mode Plagal have created a style that absorbs tradition, making it an integral part of their music without delivering pale imitations.
Particulary delicious is the wonderfully arranges ethnic-tinged "Kalanta" - Christmas carols from Thrace - bolstered by shouting percussion and feather-light saxophone fillings. But if sustained intensity is what you're after, look no further than the stylistically diverse "Pikrodafni (...a blues)" which draws from the Epirot rhythmic heritage. This potent six-minute-plus track, featuring a dynamic sax lead and a driving drum beat, is exhilarating. There's also the more atmospheric "Salona", from Roumeli (continental Greece) where a sonorous sax solo takes the listener to the plains of the region, and the bluesy guitar riffs to Chicago's moody blues joints.
What makes this CD, released on Lyra, well worth exploring? It's fresh, well-crafted and finally downright radical. Demotika ill never sound the same after Mode Plagal II. The band has pushed contemporary Greek music into new territories. As for Mode Plagal, keep your eyes and ears open, these guys are probably somewhere in town doing their gig...