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Mode Plagal
Lyra, Greece (

cd cover Mode Plagal, a pioneering jazz-folk Greek fusion group offering a unique approach to traditional music, has created a signature sound both familiar and refreshingly new, that has led to their album topping many lists of the best recordings of 2001 in Greece. This is a work produced with great care, with an international audience in mind, including excellent bilingual liner notes (with a special English-only text on the history of vernacular Greek music), and the high caliber (and high profile) of guest singers.

All those things are simply supportive of the main ingredient of the album, the group itself. Propelling the music with a verve and dignity that shows both great musicianship and deep admiration for the original material, Mode Plagal reinvent it without betrayal. Joyful and vibrant, their versions are an adaptation of the age-old material for contemporary society, conserving the tradition's intrinsic value in a way that no amount of faithful interpretation ever can. This is music produced over centuries, where reinterpretation was part of its appeal. The skillful performances of that material have an easy air, despite the apparent novelty of the jazz orchestration. It appears that Mode Plagal thought long and hard about the way their music would sound, but then performed it with total abandon.

The high point of this album, and the difference from the previous two, is the participation of four noted guest performers (of which Yiota Vei and Savina Yannatou are better known to international audiences, while Theodossia Tsatsou and Eleni Tsaligopoulou to Greek ones). They deliver some of their best interpretations on record. Savina Yannatou is her usual wildly improvisational self, but it's quite rare for her to allow herself so much leeway, certainly more than on any of her solo records with the possible exception of the live Terra Nostra. Theodossia Tsatsou, who is best known for her ethereal vocals with her former band Bl� and her ensuing solo career, delivers a highly original version of a twentieth century drunkard's song. Eleni Tsaligopoulou offers a minimalist but highly effective version of an immigrant's song in a career-high performance. Yiota Vei elaborates and attenuates lyrics that in the hands of a lesser singer would have appeared banal. Her treatment brings forth the soul of the songs, especially on "Deli Papas." The importance that Greeks have been placing on 'levendi�,' a traditional manly characteristic and a word that is really untranslatable, comes to life with her performance. That this is a song about a priest is just indicative of her ability.

Also featured is Evgenios Spatharis, a voice that is familiar to every Greek as the chief contemporary performer of "shadow plays," a traditional theaterical form of Middle Eastern ancestry akin to a puppet show, where the heroes are visible only through their projections on a screen. That is the only one that loses a lot of its majesty for non-Greek speakers, as the hilarious improvised dialogue is impossible to reproduce.

Mode Plagal have once again developed their particular niche, this time through the help of their esteemed guests, and it seems that the sky is the limit for them. Together with the 'Greeks & Indians' co-operative, they should be considered the preeminent ambassadors of the much-maligned vernacular Greek music in the 21st century, a worthy accolade for a group of rare musical instinct. - Nondas Kitsos

Available at cdRoots
Audio (p)©2001 Lyra, Greece, used by permission

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