Rotating door brings in latest worthy guest

One of the most interesting domestic concert proposals for quite a while, local Greek folk-jazz combo Mode Plagal’s ongoing series of shows with associates and a rotating door of guests at the Stavros tou Notou club in Athens is consolidating its place as a winter season highlight. Mode Plagal, who have enjoyed growing recognition abroad in recent years for their delightful – and mostly instrumental – blends of traditional Greek tunes with styles like jazz, funk, rock and calypso, are the pivotal act in an ongoing series of Thursday-to-Saturday runs. 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, are the event’s two other fixtures. Then there’s the added spice of the guests – each for three nights, the latest being Papaconstantinou – this Thursday to Saturday. The now-popular songwriter spent most of the previous decade in obscurity, releasing one great album after another from his provincial base of Larissa, where the low-key figure continues to reside. It took some time for the wider public to start paying attention to Papaconstantinou’s work, which has a distinct style loosely based on rebetika and old-school laika (popular Greek), with more abrasive rock sounds and exhilarating wind instruments coming into the picture on more recent releases. Somehow, Papaconstantinou, who also provides eloquent lyrics for his songs, has managed to mold it all into a distinctive style of his own. The results of his meeting with Mode Plagal and associates for their three shows this week should be interesting. In previous weeks, Mode Plagal and Co have taken the stage with Cypriot singer-songwriter Alkinoos Ioannidis, for the series’ opening three-nighter; Thanassis Moraitis, whose part of the set included traditional Arvanitika songs, or songs of the «Arvanites,» a part of the population that speaks a fading dialect of Albanian; and, last week, Maria Farandouri, the master vocalist of epic song who has featured on numerous Mikis Theodorakis classics, for gospel songs, spirituals, and songs of lament. Following this week’s three nights with Papaconstantinou, the series brings in cult figure Georges Pilali for three nights, January 19 to 21. Not just a worthy blues guitarist, Pilali is also a natural entertainer, or an outrageous, loud-mouthed storyteller with loads of mostly sidekick-versus-rich-man stories to tell. The series ends a week after Pilali’s appearances, on January 26-28, with another colorful cult figure and wayward storyteller as the special guest, Argyris Bakyrtzis, frontman of warped rebetika act Himerini Kolymvites (Winter Swimmers). Bakyrtzis is best known for his role as frontman of Himerini Kolymvites, a long-running act that has rendered peculiar blends of rebetika, cantathes (traditional serenades from the Ionian islands), and, to a lesser degree, tango, all with looser free jazz and improvisation provided by the seven-member act’s more radical side, a trio on double bass, accordion and winds. Besides the music, Bakyrtzis has also been reluctantly drawn into a few acting roles by directors enchanted by his on-stage charisma and, probably, his croaky, almost comical voice. It should be jovial finale to the series. January 12-14, 19-21, 26-28, Stavros tou Notou, 37 Tharypou & Frantzi, 210.922.6975.

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