Promising musical chemistry

Now this is a really interesting musical event, a series of shows that highlights how great and versatile a band the local Greek folk-jazz combo Mode Plagal really are, while also bringing together some of the country’s worthier musical talent. Mode Plagal, a sextet that has been gaining exposure and respect abroad in recent years for its inspired blends of traditional Greek tunes with styles like jazz, funk, rock and calypso, is currently playing a pivotal role in an ongoing series of Thursday-to-Saturday runs in Athens, with a featured guest for each three-nighter. Two other acts feature as permanent fixtures of the series: singer Martha Frintzila, who has risen to fame through her on-stage association with cult-figure-turned-major-attraction Thanassis Papaconstantinou; and Walter Testa, a Mode Plagal side project involving a couple of the act’s members in slightly altered roles. Then there’s the revolving door of guests that opened just days ago with Cypriot singer-songwriter Alkinoos Ioannidis. There is plenty more to come, including the aforementioned Papaconstantinou, Georges Pilali, and Argyris Bakirtzis, all of whom rank as some of the country’s more interesting and unconventional musical figures, as well as seasoned singer Maria Farandouri, the master vocalist of numerous Mikis Theodorakis classics. The latest three-night round, beginning this Thursday, will feature Thanassis Moraitis, whose part of the set will include traditional Arvanitika songs, or songs of the «Arvanites,» a part of the population that speaks a fading dialect of Albanian. With Mode Plagal and the others involved, the old folk tunes are likely to get the plug-it-all-in electrified treatment. Between January 5 and 7, Mode Plagal welcome Maria Farandouri, the master vocalist of epic song, to the stage. Farandouri, who has featured on numerous Mikis Theodorakis classics, and the rest will present gospel songs, spirituals, and songs of lament. Much will be left to the fate of improvisation over these three nights, dubbed «The Notes Never Return to the Strings.» The next round, January 12 to 14, brings in Papaconstantinou, the now-popular songwriter who spent most of the previous decade in obscurity, releasing exceptional work from his provincial Larissa base, where the low-profile figure still lives. Papaconstantinou’s songwriting, a distinct style loosely based on old rebetika and old-school laika (popular Greek) – all somehow warped into personal shape – has also let in a dirtier rock sound and abundant winds on more recent efforts that have appealed to a wider fanbase here. With Papaconstantinou on stage, it should be interesting to see how the chemistry with Mode Plagal and company goes. If that isn’t enough to stimulate the curiosity of listeners interested in this musical clique, then how about Mode Plagal with Georges Pilali as the special guest, not long after a recent performance at the Gagarin club, as part of an old-and-getting-old local rockers all-star show? Pilali, a worthy blues guitarist and outrageous, loud-mouthed storyteller and all-round entertainer fueled by fact, fiction, and a vivid imagination, joins the weekly series for its second-last round, January 19 to 21. Besides Pilali’s musical prowess, the man’s hilarious, mostly sidekick-versus-rich-man stories, often with English-langauge one-liners thrown in for extra spice, rank as a highlight of his show. What will become of his three nights with Mode Plagal remains to be seen and heard. The series ends in similarly outrageous fashion a week later, between January 26 and 28, with another wayward and colorful storyteller, Argyris Bakirtizis, frontman of rebetika surrealist cult act Himerini Kolymvites (meaning winter swimmers) on board. This long-running cult act’s peculiar blend of rebetika, cantathes (traditional serenades from the Ionian islands), and – to a lesser degree – tango with looser free jazz and improvisation, has probably served as an influence on Mode Plagal as well as some of the other acts of this series. With this in mind, Bakirtzis’s inclusion is fitting. But they won’t really be paying homage here; just offering more nights of promising musical chemistry. December 29-31, January 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 26-28, Stavros Tou Notou, 37 Tharypou & Frantzi, 210.922.6975.