Continental jazz players return

Now four years old, the European Jazz Festival of Athens, which has provided worthy free entertainment since Day One, is turning into a summertime institution for the capital. This year’s event, the biggest to date, which begins tonight and runs through Sunday, features 21 acts from as many EU members. The festival opens 9 p.m. with an Estonian group, the Weekend Guitar Trio. Interestingly, all three members use guitars as well as a variety of live electronics for an expanded contemporary sound that delves into rock, jazz, electronica and world music. A Spanish act, the Perico Sambeat Quartet, led by saxophonist Perico Sambeat, one of the country’s more promising newer jazz musicians, is the second act on tonight. After completing his studies in Barcelona, Sambeat dove straight in at the deep end of jazz while on a trip to New York in the early 1990s, which led to various noteworthy collaborations including one with Pat Metheny. The opening night ends with Denmark’s Uffe Steen Trio, a guitar-bass-drums act whose style covers classic standards and groove, all blues-inflected. Tomorrow’s opening act, Drum Freaks, from Poland, is likely to prove unpredictable. Led by Milo Kurtis, a Pole of Greek descent, who originally emerged with the well-received act Ossjan, Drum Freaks are a jazz-based fusion act, both musically and geographically. Their lineup includes musicians from Poland, Africa, the USA and Greece. Hungarians Off Course, tomorrow’s second act, were formed in 1989. The quartet began playing jazz standards before gravitating toward a more New Age style. Tomorrow ends with Mode Plagal, the Greek ethnic-jazz act which, over three albums to date, has managed to masterfully blend Greek folk songs hailing from rural regions with a range of imported styles including jazz, calypso, rock and funk. The band’s founding members, saxophonist Thodoris Rellos, guitarist Kleon Antoniou, and drummer Takis Kanellos, part of a budding wider scene of local musicians for the past few years, eventually emerged as a trio and forged their trademark ethnic-jazz style. Soon after, they were joined by bassist Antonis Maratos, a multi-instrumentalist, and have since expanded into a sextet with Hammond and percussion players also on board. The work’s material has made an impact on foreign circuits, prompting a number of appearances in various European cities. Thursday night opens with Sweden’s Torbjorn Zetteberg Hot 5, an act influenced by the likes of Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Concertgoers can expect to hear rocking swing tunes, be-bop and abundant improvisation from the band led by bassist Zetterberg, a central figure in Swedish jazz. Calling themselves 4, a Belgian jazz-rock fusion act takes the baton from the Swedes. Luxembourg’s Pascal Schumacher Quartet, led by vibraphonist Schumacher, ends Thursday’s session. The act, which plays jazz standards as well as originals, released its debut album, «Change of the Moon,» two months ago. Friday’s agenda opens with Slovakia’s Dasa Libiakova & Nothing But Swing, the vocalist’s backing trio over the past five years. The focus here is on traditional jazz of the 1940s. Also performing Friday will be the Latvian Blues Band, formed in 1997 to play nothing but the blues, including material by legendary bluesmen such as Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. French act Carte A4, also performing Friday, formed in 2001 with the intent of playing a groove-based style. They have released two albums to date. Friday night ends with the Lithuanian Jazz Trio, which formed in 1989 for a free take of jazz standards. Saturday night will open with the Czech Republic’s Agharta Prague Gang, led by drummer Michal Hejna, a record label producer and founder of a leading jazz club back home, the AghARTa Jazz Centrum. Finland’s Marian Petrescu Trio, a seasoned act that has enjoyed a sturdy presence on the international jazz circuit for years, play next on Saturday. Italy’s Marco Castelli Quartet, also Saturday, base their work mostly on original material carrying Mediterranean, European, and Latin American influences. Like most Italian jazz musicians, group leader Castelli, a saxophonist, also writes music for theater, film, and dance. The New York-based German Cornelius Claudio Kreusch, backed by his Sun Music band, who ends Saturday’s session, is a highly regarded figure on the international jazz circuit. His albums have enjoyed rave reviews, while the artist has collaborated with major acts such as Bobby McFerrin, Herbie Hancock and Salif Keita. The festival ends Sunday with the Klarisa Jovanovic & Zarko Zikovic Ensemble from Slovenia, Austria’s Karlheinz Miklin Trio, the Netherlands’ Yuri Honing Trio, and Ireland’s Mark O’Leary, who will team up with two local musicians for the festival’s finale. Tonight-Sun, Technopolis, Pireos 100, Gazi. (Starts 9 p.m. on first three nights and 8 p.m. all other nights.)